Victoria Cilliers: A true story about skydiving mother supposed to die in husband’s parachute murder plot

Victoria Cilliers plummeted 4,000 feet to the ground, but miraculously survived

Victoria Cilliers
Victoria Cilliers survived the 4,000 feet fall when her parachute failed during a skydive PICTURE: STORYFILMS TV

The Fall: Skydive Murder Plot - Channel 4

A true story about a woman who was supposed to die, the programme centres on what could have been the horrifying death of skydiving mother-of-two Victoria Cilliers.

An experienced skydiver and instructor, she had only recently given birth to her second child, and wanted to take to the skies once again.

The first of three episodes of the true-crime series opens like a scripted drama with Victoria, played by actor MyAnna Buring, talking with husband Emile ahead of her skydive.

“It’s fine honey, you’ve been wanting to do this for a while... it will be worth it,” he tells her.

Taking to the sky, she returns to an activity she had done thousands of times before - but this time her parachute failed to open.

She knew what to do: cut the faulty chute away and deploy her reserve parachute.

But when that also failed, she plummeted 4,000 feet to the ground.

Rob Camps, club secretary at Netheravon Airfield, tells the programme of how it was “pretty sickening watching it”.

Racing to her aid in a field carrying a body bag, he said: “She was very pale, I could not see any rise and fall in her chest... I just had this dread that this is a corpse.”

Victoria suffered spinal and internal injuries, a broken pelvis and five broken ribs - investigators said it was a miracle she survived to be able to provide her version of events around the jump that nearly killed her.

The real-life detectives who investigated the case, DI Paul Franklin and DC Maddy Hennah, feature heavily in the programme.

We hear their take on events and through two actors and a series of dramatic reconstructions watch how their investigation unfolded.

They recall how initially it seemed like a freak accident, while also considering it may have been equipment failure or a suicide attempt.

But examinations of the parachute soon revealed a lack of ‘slinks’ that connect two parts of the parachute - which only an expert would know how to remove.

The alarm bells start to sound.

It doesn’t take long for the eyes of suspicion to move to Victoria’s husband, South African-born army sergeant Emile Cilliers - something she refuses to believe.

DC Hennah tells the programme of how looking back, “I had no idea that it was the start of something that was going to take over my life for three years.”

Their painstaking investigation is told through the reconstructions, where at times the real detectives sit in directors’ chairs observing the actors playing them.

One reconstruction of the police interview with Victoria sees the detectives tell her of their suspicions of her husband.

MyAnna Buring plays Victoria Cilliers
MyAnna Buring plays Victoria Cilliers

Using actual police transcripts, the drama scene is strangely acted out with DI Franklin and DC Hennah standing in the background, watching over proceedings.

The cameras, lighting, film set and production crew also appear throughout the episode - no effort is made to hide anything.

It soon emerges Emile had taken his wife’s parachute into a toilet cubicle before the jump and tampered with it.

The bigger picture begins to unravel - an affair, debts, sex club membership and use of escorts linked to Emile.

“I love her and she’s the mother of my children... but it’s not a marriage I want to be in anymore,” he calmly tells the detectives.

The three-part documentary drama also looks at why Victoria defended her husband and the coercive control he exerted in their relationship.

At one stage near the end of the episode, the detectives admit “there’s no proof, there’s no killer piece of CCTV, no witness, no ace piece of forensics”.

And with no appearance of the real Victoria, is it assumed she still believes her husband?

But as the episode closes, surprise, she appears in front of the camera, ready to tell her side of the day that she almost died.