The situation looked bleak. Andy Wirth had enjoyed the thrill of skydiving for several years, but on this fateful day, windy conditions created a recipe for possible disaster. Wirth became disoriented, missed his intended landing area and was forced to make a split second decision to attempt an emergency landing in a nearby vineyard instead.
His right arm was shredded by the steel posts and wires supporting the grapevines in the field. With blood pouring from his injured arm, Wirth drew on his background as a back country ranger and quickly assessed the situation. Despite the immense pain, he used his left hand to help stifle the heavy flow of blood.
He knew that he also had to maintain control of his emotions until help could arrive. Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” immediately began playing through his mind. The lyrics about mortality first created an intense sadness within him, but that feeling was soon replaced by intense joy as a sense of peace washed over him. He continued to sing the song aloud until EMTs arrived. After being airlifted to the University of California, Davis trauma center, he began his stay in ICU. He had 21 surgeries to repair his horribly mangled arm and was released after a 50 day stay.
For Wirth, life is returning to normal. The recovery of his right hand has proven to be easier than his elbow which is healing more slowly. While his wife continues to help him with some tasks as he continues to heal, Wirth, CEO and president of Squaw Valley Ski, has returned to work and was recently appointed as chairman of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority Board. While he still admits a love of skydiving, he states it is doubtful that he will ever skydive again. He feels that the pain and hurt that his family endured on his behalf was just too much to ever be repeated.