Experienced skydiving instructor committed suicide by releasing harness midair, police say

An experienced skydiving instructor who plunged to his death while flying tandem with a student in Maine deliberately released his safety harness to commit suicide, state police revealed Monday.

Brett Bickford, 41, of Rochester, N.H., died on Sept. 27 after he separated from his student and fell a mile to his death, Maine State Police said.

The unidentified student landed safely with the parachute and quickly contacted police. Bickford’s body was found the next day about 750 feet southwest of the Lebanon Airport runway by a search and rescue team.

Maine’s medical examiner concluded this week that Bickford’s death was a suicide.

“Brett was one amazing smart young man. Those who knew Brett know he had a free spirit of life to live one day at a time,” his obituary said. “Brett’s smile and laughter live on in all who knew him.”

A two-month investigation concluded Bickford loosened his harness midair and that it was an intentional act. Police said they spoke with other skydiving instructors and industry officials, who all concluded that no experienced skydiver would loosen a parachute harness by mistake, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Steve McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, told the newspaper that Bickford, who had been an instructor at Skydive New England in Lebanon for 10 years, did not leave a suicide note.

Nicole Koreen, director of sports promotion for the U.S. Parachute Association, told the newspaper that tandem skydiving has a solid safety record, with an average of one student fatality per 500,000 tandem jumps over the past decade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.