Searchers late Friday afternoon found the body of a skydiving instructor as the mystery deepened about how he became detached from his student and plummeted to the ground from several thousand feet during a tandem jump the previous day.

Brett Bickford, 41, of Rochester, New Hampshire, was part of a tandem skydive that originated from Skydive New England in Lebanon. His body was found about 750 feet southwest of the Lebanon Airport runway about 5:30 p.m. Friday by a team of four game wardens, a Maine State Police trooper and two members of a search-and-rescue team.

Cpl. John MacDonald, spokesman for the Maine Warden Service, said the team found Bickford’s body while completing one of the last grid searches of the day.

The investigation is continuing into how Bickford became separated from the student after deploying the parachute during the jump around 2 p.m. Thursday. The student skydiver, who hasn’t been identified, landed safely.

MacDonald said that tandem jumps typically are made with the student and instructor in separate harnesses that are attached, with the instructor secured behind the student.

The instructor wears the parachute and controls its deployment during free-fall and landings, MacDonald said. Whatever occurred that led to the student and Bickford becoming separated happened after the parachute was deployed, MacDonald said.

More than 50 people and a dozen search dogs looked for Bickford on Friday in a heavily wooded area of Lebanon next to the Lebanon Airport and the Skydive New England offices, MacDonald said earlier Friday. He said licensed drone operators, aircraft and searchers on ATVs also assisted in the search and that the likeliest area for Bickford to come down contained thick, heavy woods and wetlands.

Searchers look for the body of Brett Bickford on Friday at Skydive New England in Lebanon.

Ryan Scutt, a skydiving instructor in Bennington, Vermont, was baffled by the description of what happened.

“I’ve never once heard of anything like this happening,” said Scutt, who was contacted by the Portland Press Herald for his insights into the incident.

Scutt said skydiving instructors and students both wear harnesses on jumps, with the main parachute and a backup in the harness attached to the instructor. The instructor and student are typically connected by four metal buckles and it would be almost impossible for them to become detached accidentally, he said.

“The idea of the instructor not being in the harness anymore or falling out is essentially unheard of,” he said, and the pair “can’t become disconnected once they are connected.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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