NOW HE'S FOREVER UP IN THE SKY
YOU South Africa|30 September 2021
The four friends had done hundreds of parachute jumps together – then a freak accident in mid-air left one of them dead
CYRIL BLACKBURN

THEIR passion for the sport connected them like brothers. Nothing brought them greater joy than freefalling through the air before deploying their parachutes and floating down to Earth.

The four friends, Joggie Botma, Hilmar Backer, Rudi Serfontein, and Dylan Whitehair, shared a bond forged through adrenaline and adventure and they spent most weekends indulging in their greatest passion.

“A high-risk sport like this makes you close,” Joggie says. “It’s like blood, but stronger.”

Then came the freak accident that ripped their lives apart. A jump at a parachuting club near Delmas, Mpumalanga, went tragically wrong: Hilmar (42) died in a mid-air collision with Rudi (38).

Dylan (25), who’d decided not to jump that day, watched the horror unfold from the ground. Only Joggie (45) wasn’t there as he had other weekend plans.

Now the three friends are grieving the loss of their “brother” and nothing will ever be the same.

“The chances of something like that happening are one in a million,” Joggie says.

As they deployed their parachutes at a height of 1 828m, they collided and Hilmar hit his head against Rudi’s thigh.

The force was so great that it broke Rudi’s leg. Hilmar is likely to have died instantly. Rudi was taken to hospital where he had surgery on 9 September on his broken femur and ankle.

“All four of the guys were close, but Hilmar and Rudi were inseparable,” says Liz Backer, Hilmar’s sister. “When I went to visit Rudi in hospital, he kept saying, ‘It can’t be, it can’t be’.”

Though the loss is unbearable, they’ve made peace with it, says Cisca Scheepers, Hilmar’s girlfriend of eight years. “Hilmar never wanted to be on the ground. He’s in heaven now, where he’s meant to be.”

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