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My hands were indeed full. With two good and two defunct engines on their respective wings of the Halifax, keeping it on course was difficult enough with both hands and feet on the controls. I struggled with the intercom. and oxygen connections, disengaged them and pulled the clip of my Sutton harness to release that too. I had throttled back the good engines and quickly and roughly trimmed the ’plane to fly reasonably level. Then I stood up, grabbing the parachute pack from my lap, and moved forward to the step which led down to the lower cabin and the open escape hatch in the floor. I looked at it. It was precisely 3 ft. square, but through it lay the prospect of life and safety. When a parachute pack was clipped on to the harness we all wore it could be clipped with its ripcord, situated now in the front of the ‘chute, either on its right or left side. So aircrew were trained to remember to check the side the ripcord, which had to be pulled to open the parachute, was actually on, lest a bump on the head in getting out or a lack of oxygen at those heights made the parachutist a bit stupid or slow to react. I stood at the top of that step, put my thumb up to encounter the ripcord’s metal handle, and the next thing I knew was that the entire front cabin was full of flowing nylon sheet. The ripcord had been pulled – whether because I was by this time slightly inebriated with lack of oxygen due to being without it for a minute or so at a height which was still 18,000ft., or because the Halifax, now with no hands at its controls, was bucking around rather roughly. Anyway, the ripcord was pulled, the nylon of a 28ft diameter canopy released and filling the cabin, and the escape hatch with its nine square feet of promise hidden from view! I stood still for a moment or two. ‘Kilpatrick,’ I said to myself, ‘What a BF you are! Through that hole is the chance of survival. Now you are going to be either fried or splashed!’ And then I suddenly decided that it was not going to be like that! I grabbed at the waterfall of nylon which had flowed into the cabin and, expanding like a silk handkerchief which is crushed in the hand and suddenly released, had filled every corner of it. I grabbed with both hands, frantically and with a determination I had never imagined I had, and rolled and squeezed it against my chest, grabbing more and squeezing harder until I had most of it safely in my arms. The 3 ft square hole looked a bit less than adequate to get through, with trails of nylon still hanging from my precious bundle, and it occurred to me that even if I got safely through it there was no chance of counting 1-2-3 before pulling the ripcord, the normal drill to try to ensure that the parachute would not open prematurely and get itself entangled in the aircraft’s tailplane or any other part of it.


I had never heard of anyone being foolish enough to pull his ripcord actually inside his aeroplane and managing to get out to tell the tale. But the alternative to trying was more uninviting than even the slimmest chance of survival. I stepped forward to the hole and dropped feet first into the void beneath.


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