Base jumper Gary, 28, was 'living the dream'
THE family of an experienced and record-breaking skydiver, who was killed when a base jump went wrong, said he knew the risks but was "living the dream."
Gary Harbird, 28, died instantly from severe head injuries after going into an spin after leaping from the notorious High Ultimate jump in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland in January 2011.
His inquest at Exeter's County Hall heard how he opened his parachute but hit the cliff face before becoming entangled in a tree.
Gary, who had been living in America since the age of 17, had just recently been at his family's Honiton home for Christmas before he went on a holiday to the Alps with a friend Christopher Peterson. He was the first of the duo to make the jump.
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In a statement Mr Peterson said Gary had taken off strongly, but he had noticed he had got into trouble before he disappeared from view.
After jumping himself he saw Gary's parachute hanging in a tree. He tried to call out to him and then landed safely where the emergency services were called.
No drugs or alcohol were found in Gary's system and there was no evidence of external interference. He had been wearing a helmet but it had been ripped off before impact.
Coroner Elizabeth Earland recorded a verdict of accidental death.
After the inquest Gary's mum Alison Harbird, who lives in St Leonard's Road, Honiton, said she wanted to emphasise that he was not reckless in his actions.
Speaking alongside her partner Dave Clements and daughter Jenna Armitage, she said: "Gary was very experienced and I just want people to know he doesn't just go and chuck himself off. He prepared for all his jumps and he knew what he was doing.
"His whole world was skydiving. He fulfilled his life dream doing it for a living and he was living his dream.
"He knew the risks but took all the precautions he could.
"There is nothing we heard today that we did not already know. But I wanted to come for Gary. I am his mother and wanted to make sure everyone knew he was not reckless. This was just a tragic accident."
Gary was born in Exeter and attended Honiton Community College. From the age of 11 he would hang around at Dunkeswell to help pack parachutes and he became the country's youngest skydiver just days after his 16th birthday.
After moving to Jump Town in America he also became the world's youngest AFF instructor. By the time of his death he had completed 400 base jumps and 8,000 parachute jumps.
"He was experienced and it was a serious sport for him," added Ms Harbird.
"He did not have a death wish. He lived life to the full. We have had hundreds of messages of support from people saying he changed their life. Even though he died at such a young age and I will never come to terms with it, that has really helped me and been a big comfort."
Ms Armitage, who lives in Exeter, added: "Gary had always wanted to be a skydiver and when we were little he used to put me in a harness and push me out of imaginary planes.
"He was incredible at what he did and one of my biggest regrets is never going on a skydive with him."