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Sun, Jul 06, 2003

It Wasn't Parachute Failure

UK Police Say It Was sabotage

Who handled Stephen Hilder's parachute just before his last, fatal jump? That question haunts police and defense investigators in the United Kingdom, as they investigate the 20-year old Defense Academy cadet's murder at an annual parachuting competition Friday.

Hilder was a veteran skydiver, with more than 200 jumps under his belt. He was also a member of the Army Parachute Association, one of the oldest skydiving clubs in the world. So, when young Hilder hit the ground at something close to terminal velocity, investigators in Shrivenham, near Swindon, Wiltshire, became suspicious.

Leading the investigation, Detective Superintendent Colin Andrews with the Humberside Police Department, described Hilder's death as "horrendous."

"The parachute equipment had been tampered with before he jumped. This is extremely unusual," he told the London Independent.

Timeline To Murder

Hilder, who was described by friends as "extremely safety-conscious," checked his rig Wednesday night. He stored it in good working condition. But police say sometime between Wednesday and Friday's fatal jump, the parachute rig was sabotaged. So far, investigators have questioned more than 70 people, according to the Independent. They still want to talk with anyone who was on the airfield at Hibaldstow near Brigg, Humberside, during that two-day period.

Hilder was described by one APA associate as "a very nice man." His family near Hereford, England, are reportedly "devastated."

FMI: www.defenceacademy.mod.uk, www.netheravon.com

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