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Chute Sabotage

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If you want to murder a skydiver, one way to do it is to sabotage their parachute, causing a parachute malfunction. This method has a number of advantages. It is almost invariably fatal, the murderer does not need to be anywhere near the victim at the time of death, and there is a good chance the death will be written off as an accident.

In the Real Life, this happens, but only rarely. There are three possibilities for sabotage: either canopy, suspension lines or harness. It must be remembered that all skydiving rigs contain not one, but two, parachutes: main and reserve. Sabotaging a parachute rig so an experienced skydiver won't notice isn't simple. To make it work, you have to sabotage both the main and reserve canopies. Most experienced skydivers are very jealous about their rigs and never let anyone else pack them, and the regulations require them to check the gear before every jump, so once the detectives work out the death was murder, they will start looking for someone with skydiving experience. This gives them a limited circle of suspects, consisting mostly of the victim's friends and associates. Double malfunctions, where both main and reserve canopies fail, are extremely rare, so suspicion of a murder instead of an accident is pretty much imminent.

See also Inconvenient Parachute Deployment and Wrong Parachute Gag. Compare and contrast Death Flight. Also compare Sink the Lifeboats for this trope on a larger scale.


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    Comic Books 
  • Detective Comics #435: In "Case of the Dead-On Target!", Private Eye Jason Bard is reenacting a parachute jump to prove how a skydiver could seemingly have been murdered in midair. The real killer is the pilot, who had also packed Jason's chute for the jump and rigged so it would not open. After the other three jumpers had bailed out, the pilot shoves Jason out the door of the plane. Jason survives, if only barely, by holding on to the pilot and dragging him along, and the activating the pilot's chute.
  • Subverted in the French comic LEffaceur (The Eraser), where the titular hitman gets rid of an entire group of skydivers by flying at a very low altitude instead of sabotaging each individual parachute.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Curse of the Pink Panther, Dreyfus shoots a parasailing Sleigh out of the sky with a missile from a rocket launcher.
  • In Drop Zone, Jessie's parachuting friend Selkirk is severely injured after using a faulty parachute that Ty had intended for Jessie to use.
  • Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare: Freddy Krueger performs an on-the-spot and very unsubtle example at the mid-point of the movie. As his victim descends helplessly from a parachute, he casually and nonchalantly begins cutting the straps to the parachute with his bladed glove. To add insult to injury, after the victim plummets, Freddy appears directly below on the ground, pushing a bed of spikes where he'll land.
  • Lampshaded in Point Break (1991) as Johnny becomes suspicious, and the surfers swap their rigs with each other while in the jump plane.
  • In The Skydivers, the jilted Femme Fatale Suzy murders her ex, Harry, by damaging his parachute with acid before a drop.
  • Played for laughs in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. While visiting Toon Town, Eddie Valiant falls out of a skyscraper and, in mid-fall, runs into Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, who are both skydiving. Bugs loans Eddie his "spare", which turns out to be a spare tire.
    Bugs Bunny: Ain't I a stinker?
  • Wild Things 2: Brittney murders her jerkass stepfather, whose death she had previously helped fake, by replacing his parachute with newspapers before shoving him out of an aeroplane.

  • Between Silk & Cyanide. SOE arranges for a German Double Agent to parachute into Germany, ostensibly to establish a sabotage ring, but in actually his parachute has been sabotaged so he'll be killed and the details of the operation discovered on his body. The idea is to make the Gestapo think there's an active sabotage ring already operating in Germany. Leo Marks is stuck with the job of briefing the man in codework knowing he'll never use it because he's being set up for the chop.
  • Doc Savage: At the end of The Laugh of Death, the Big Bad tries to escape a fight on an airplane by jumping out with a parachute on his back. Doc's assistant Monk plunges a knife into the parachute pack as the villain is jumping, then innocently notes that the man's parachute didn't open.
  • Jaine Austen Mysteries: In Death of a Bachelorette, which takes place on a "Bachelor" knockoff, the book's victim, contestant Hope Harper, is on a skydiving date with the show's bachelor, Spencer Dalworth VII. His chute opens up in spite of his raging incompetence. Hope's, not so much.
  • In an Alistair MacLean thriller a hijacker avoids this trope by requesting an aircraft and parachutes for both himself and the crew, with the selection of who uses which chute to be made at random.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Brokenwood Mysteries: Mike's birthday party in the park is cut short when a skydiver dies on impact nearby. The detectives discover that his chute was tampered with in such a way that it would pass inspection, but fail when he actually tried to deploy it.
  • In the "Free Fall" episode of Bull, the governor takes his closest advisors on a skydiving trip. Both his main and reserve chute fail to open. The instructor realizes what is going on and dives after him trying to grab him and use his own chute to bring them both to the ground safely. He runs out of time and both men die. The governor's wife then sues the skydiving company for negligence. Bull's team is trying to show that the governor's chute might have been sabotaged as that would mean the the skydiving company was not liable for the death.
  • Cannon: When Cannon finds an unused sabotaged parachute in a wrecked plane in "Country Blues", it starts him down the track to the solution: that someone was trying to kill the pilot, not the passenger.
  • The Coroner: In "The Drop Zone", the chief instructor, Rafe, of a sky diving school falls to his death when his main and reserve parachute fail to open. The parachutes having being tampered with leads to suspicion of murder by one of his colleagues and when Jane receives a medical report that he had a terminal illness suicide becomes another possibility.
  • CSI:
    • In "The Descent of Man", the near-death of a skydiver whose parachute was sabotaged turns out to be connected with the deaths of two men who were killed from the sky. The skydiver actually sabotaged his own chute in an attempt to commit suicide out of guilt over his involvement in the two murders. It doesn't work.
    • In "Angle of Attack", the reserve chute on a pilot's wing suit is disabled before he is sent flying to his death. Except he was already dead The sabotaged wing suit is an attempt to disguise the cause of death.
  • CSI: Miami: In "Terminal Velocity", the investigation into the death of a skydiver who had his control lines dissolved with acid uncovers a multitude of suspects when the team finds out he was a regular sperm donor. The killer is his wife, who found out he had a vasectomy after they got married and was incensed that, despite him being a sperm donor, he had no intention of having any children with her.
  • In the Elementary fifth season episode “Bang Bang Shoot Chute” the Victim of the Week, a BASE jumper, is discovered to have been killed by two separate murderers, one of whom sabotaged his chute before the other, not aware, shot him as he fell.
  • In the "They Fought in the Fields" episode of Foyle's War a German airman is found dead because his chute failed to open. Later events in the episode reveal that he grabbed the parachute intended for the plane's radar operator, which had been sabotaged so as to preserve the secrecy of German radar systems.
  • Harrow: In "Audere Est Facere" ("To Dare Is to Do"), the Victim of the Week is a BASE jumper killed when the murderer switches the line for his pilot chute from the left to the right side of his pack, so he cannot find it after he jumps off the building.
  • On Hollyoaks, Psycho Lesbian Lydia cuts Zoe's parachute so she can have Sarah to herself. However, the chutes become mixed up. Sarah falls to her death with the faulty parachute. Lydia frames Zoe but is eventually convicted.
  • The Mentalist: In "Carnelian Inc.", an anonymous campaign against a big corporation begins with the threat of a murder at a specific time and place. CBI is waiting at the location when a corporate executive from Carnelian Inc. on a corporate retreat plunges from the sky; the canopy lines on his parachute cut.
  • Motive: In "Pitfall", the Victim of the Week is murdered when the killer swaps out his parachute for one that has the lines on both the main and reserve canopies cut.
  • NCIS: In "Hung Out to Dry", a Marine dies during a training jump. The investigation reveals that his shroud lines had been coated with an acidic cleaning agent, causing the fibres to disintegrate. The pull ring on his reserve was soldered so that it wouldn't open.
  • The Professionals. In "First Night", a gang of kidnappers include in the ransom demand an RAF aircraft out of the country equipped with a dozen parachutes, with the RAF crew made to jump first as insurance against this trope.
  • In an episode of Ultraman 80, the titular Ultra's human form, Takeshi Yamato, is forced to jettison his plane after being trapped with Alien Baltan. However, Baltan followed and deliberately use its pincers to cut the strings on Takeshi's chute, necessitating him to henshin into Ultraman 80 (with Baltan turning giant-sized for the compulsory Behemoth Battle concluding every episode).

    Video Games 
  • The first mission in Hitman 3 allows you to cut off the parachutes that your targets use as a secondary evacuation measure, be it sabotaging the parachute bags with a knife when it still in its safe or shooting it with a sniper rifle when your targets are descending down.
  • Neopets "Cooty Wars": clicking on the canopy of the parachute disposes of any Cooty paratrooper that appears.
  • Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe allows you to shoot down the chutes of enemy pilots after you destroy their planes. It's not helpful, but it's funny.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes: In Duck Amuck, when the unseen animator makes Daffy's plane crash into a newly drawn mountain, Daffy deploys his parachute. Then the animator erases that and replaces it with an anvil.

    Real Life 
  • In a real life example, a Belgian woman named Els Clottemans was convicted of murder in 2010 for killing a romantic rival by cutting her parachutes' suspension lines (the cords which connect the canopy to risers). She got 30 years' prison sentence on basis of mental illness.
  • Happened in the US military in 2003 — a Marine was sentenced to twenty years after being caught sabotaging his service mates' parachutes and attempting to frame another innocent Marine. See the article.
  • In 2018, a British soldier was convicted of trying to kill his wife by sabotaging her parachutes.
  • Note that strafing a bailed-out combat aviator while under parachute - or strafing his canopy so he plummets to his death - is a genuine War Crime. The rationale is that he is totally helpless and cannot possibly take any offensive action in his current state; this is why the same laws do not apply to paratroopers, for whom parachuting is part of their method of attack.

Alternative Title(s): Para Sabotage


Duck Amuck

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