The man who fell to earth honours the man who gave his life to save him

Chris Rantall did not give in to terror when both parachutes failed to open properly during a tandem skydive on 30 July 2021, as he hurtled to the ground with his instructor, Arron Toepfer.

“My memories were of just praising God and telling Arron to have faith in God, have trust in God,” says Chris.

“I honestly thought God would sort it out before we hit the ground.”

Until this freak malfunction, Chris had been enjoying his first skydiving experience, a combination of his bucket list wish and part of his daughter Raya’s birthday celebration.

“She was with her instructor and I was with my instructor. Raya jumped out, but then we pass her because Raya’s parachute worked. Ours came out, but the ropes got tangled, and I saw the canopy wasn’t open, it was just flapping. Then the same thing happened to the secondary chute, the emergency parachute.”

Raya watched in horror as her father and Arron fell from 10,000 feet, around 3km, and crash-landed in a field in Torquay, Victoria.

“You can imagine the speed we were going. And Raya was saying that as we were falling, we were very chaotic. But the last three seconds were calm. So the way I look at it, it was like God’s angels were there guiding us to land the right way.

“We landed feet first, spiralling in an anti-clockwise direction. My feet hit first, and then as we’ve fallen, Arron cradled me as we hit the ground.”

Both Arron, 34, and Chris, 55, survived the initial impact, with medical staff holding greater fears for Chris than for Arron. But Arron didn’t live for more than an hour.

“After praying, he had a sense of peace. It was like he finally opened his heart to God.” – Chris Rantall

In the talks that Chris gives about his miraculous survival, he always pays tribute to Arron, who “in those final seconds before we hit the ground, has cradled a total stranger to try and protect his passenger, someone that he never knew before that day in disregard to his own life,” Chris says.

“For me, Arron is the hero. He didn’t have to do that. He could’ve just let me drop. In reality, we both should have died on impact. For some reason, God kept us both alive.

“When I was saying to Arron, ‘have faith in God, trust God,’ I believe that was God knocking on his heart, saying, ‘Let me in.’ I now know that Arron went to primary and secondary Christian schools.

“When we were on the ground, Arron seemed fine. He wanted to get up. He was talking, and people thought that Arron would be okay. And because I was so messed up, people were expecting me to be the one to die if one of us was going to. But my daughter, who has a strong faith, was praying with Arron. And not at the start, but after praying, he had a sense of peace. It was like he finally opened his heart to God. And it gives me a lot of comfort to know that because I believe that God got Raya and myself there that day for this particular reason, for the salvation of Arron’s soul.”

Chris is still in rehab for the physical injuries he sustained, which include a dislocated and fractured hip, damage to his left kidney, spleen, lung, and heart. He had internal bleeding, two fractured ribs, three fractured vertebrae and his tongue had to be stitched up.

“They didn’t know at that stage if I was going to be able to walk again.”

Emotionally, the worst of his struggles has been survivor’s guilt.

“Like, I get to spend time with my family. I’m up and about, I’m living, I’ve got friends, and then you’ve got Arron who can’t experience family, can’t do skydiving, so it was really hard in those early days. Arron’s parents were just fantastic. Fantastic. They still are, and they’re still really encouraging towards me as well.”

Fearing that Chris would die of heart failure within the first 48 hours, doctors admitted him to ICU at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, where he made a surprisingly swift recovery, transferring to the ward after a few days.

“They didn’t know at that stage if I was going to be able to walk again, or how well I’d be able to walk, but if I couldn’t walk, I was just content with what God had planned for me.”

After starting on a walking frame, Chris was soon mobilising on crutches and after six days in the Alfred, he was transferred to Warrnambool Base Hospital for six days before being able to go home.

“I could walk up steps and everything, so the speed of the recovery surprised doctors. Some of the medical people have said one reason why the recovery was so quick in those early days was that I was reasonably healthy beforehand,” Chris says.

Mentally, though, Chris had struggled with depression since being discharged from the Army in 2007 with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

In the early days after returning from duty in East Timor, Chris was a mess.

“I was a mean, nasty person,” he confesses.

“When I returned from East Timor, my life started going downhill. It got worse and worse and worse, and I tried to will myself to death because I didn’t want to be alive. But that didn’t work. I just got sicker and sicker. I lost about 15 kilos. I just got worse, mentally worse, physically worse in every way you could think of. Very violent, self-medicating with alcohol and I was out of control basically. I messed up big time.”

Chris at the Warrnambool Hospital with granddaughter Ollie.

Having been brought up a Catholic, in 2002 Chris started searching for answers outside the church.

“I was a spiritualist, I did tarot cards and I was trained under white witches, so I had all that mixed up. When I started searching, I started looking into things like Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Hare Krishna, the Church of Latter-Day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I covered all bases. Then I came across a group of people one day who were running a health stand, and they offered me Bible studies, so I was introduced to the Bible and loved the truth in the Bible.”

As soon as Chris learned about Jesus and how much God loves him, there was no looking back. He joined his local Adventist Church, got baptised and has remained there ever since.

“God was there with me, especially when I decided to start getting serious about following God and allowing his love into my heart. That’s when things started getting better.”

“God has got me in the position to be up in front of crowds talking to people when I don’t even like being around people.” – Chris Rantall

Chris says his depression is not as deep or prolonged as it used to be since the accident.

“In the early days, I could have severe depression for six months at a time. Nowadays, when I get depressed, it might last half an hour. It might last one or two days, three at the most. So it’s a lot better now. And when it does get hard, I just say, ‘God, look here, it’s yours.’ I just handball it to him. Let him deal with it because he’s the master at everything, so he might as well take it because I don’t want it.”

Spiritually, Chris says he is much gentler on himself than he was before the skydiving accident.

“I would’ve classed myself as a reasonably firm Christian, solid with God, but very hard on myself in that whenever I did something wrong, I’d come down on myself like a ton of bricks. ‘I call myself a Christian, but why am I doing this? Why do I have to be like that?’ A bit like Paul when he says, ‘I do the things that I don’t want to do.’ So that was a really big thing, but now I’m more gentle with myself. Yes, I’m human. I do the wrong things and I’m not going to be perfect until Jesus takes me back to heaven.

“I don’t use that as an excuse to give up on everything and just let sin be sin, I still make that daily effort of surrendering to Jesus and asking forgiveness when I do the wrong thing or don’t do the right thing. As a result of that, I feel closer to God.”

Chris with his wife Berni

As for sharing his testimony, Chris says he continues to honour Arron for what he did and honour God for what he’s doing now.

“The story of what happened with the skydiving incident and the talks after it is encouraging people, it’s giving people hope. It’s putting a positive light on life, so I think God is just continuing to bless people.

“Sometimes I look at myself and compare myself to Moses when he was at the burning bush and God’s saying to him, ‘Hey Moses, I’m going to send you back to Egypt so you can set your people free.’ And Moses goes, ‘Hang on, God, I’m not the right person, I’m slow of speech.’

“There’s a bit of an argument or a discussion saying, ‘I don’t feel that good, my talking is a bit rough around the edges. I’m very good at offending people.’ And here God has got me in the position to be up in front of crowds talking to people when I don’t even like being around people, even one on one, let alone in a crowd. So God’s just put a rough diamond up there, and he’s doing the polishing.”