Pilot owes his life to Biggles after crashing plane into a tree... then walking away

It might not look like a text-book landing. But the pilot who crashed this plane into the branches of a towering tree says he owes his life to fiction. Vince Hagedorn, who amazingly walked away from the wreckage, put his survival down to the fictional fighter and adventurer Biggles. Despite the blood streaming from his forehead, he left the scene with a wide smile spread across his face.

Mr Hagedorn carried out an unorthodox 'pancake' manoeuvre to land in the tree at Dundee's Caird Park Golf Course yesterday afternoon when he realised he was going to crash land after running out of fuel. He confessed he had read about the move in a book about the World War I hero decades ago - and paid tribute to its author for saving his life.

Mr Hagedorn, 63, from Chelmsford, Essex, said: 'Captain W E Johns saved my life. As a boy, I remember reading a Biggles story where he was shot down while flying over a wooded area. 'He managed to "pancake" the plane sideways into a tree, which minimised the impact, and he walked away unscathed.

In the moments before impact, I was doing about 70 knots and still managed to think, "What would Biggles do?".'

Business consultant Mr Hagedorn - who spoke to wife Carole, 58, by phone in the ambulance - was taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee but had suffered only bruised ribs and a gash to the head. His two-seater Flight Design CTSW struck the tree on the 15th hole. It took fire crews and ambulance staff an hour to free him using a series of ladders and pulleys. Mr Hagedorn, who has four years' flying experience, said: 'I left Barrow-in-Furness in the morning and was heading for RAF Kinloss, where I had been cleared to land, to visit my daughter Maggie in Lossiemouth. 'I was just north of Dundee when I checked my fuel gauge and it said it was half-full, but when I checked the wing gauges, one said it was empty and the other said I had only half-an-hour left of flying. 'I looked for somewhere to land and saw the golf course. I couldn't land on the fairway because there were too many trees, so I lined up the tree and did what Biggles did, stalled and "pancaked" into it.' A spokesman for Dundee Airport said: 'The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has been notified.'

Heads first: Amazing pictures as 108 skydivers set new freefall world record

Typical, you line a huge group together for a photo and they go and do something silly like stand on their heads. They can be forgiven for larking around though, for as they lined up for the camera these daredevil skydivers were setting a record for the biggest ever formation of people in freefall. It was also a plus point that the photographer had a steady hand and a fast shutter (and no fear of heights), for these 108 jumpers plummeted to earth at a speedy 180mph.

First the skydivers had to get up there - and as they leaped from the planes they looked like human-shaped bombs released by the maddest of dictators. Then, still above the cloud level, they began to clump together and hold hands in an insane, upside down version of hokey-cokey. Timing of the jaw-dropping event was so crucial they had just one second after linking together to break off and prepare for a safe landing. Jumpers need to begin preparations for a safe touchdown at just 7,000 feet. The breathtaking world record attempt was achieved on Friday at the Skydive Chicago event in Ottawa, Illinois., USA.

Hurtling towards the surface of the planet like these highly trained extreme sportspeople is known as freeflying. Ecstatic Luis Prinetto, 30, who manages his own pressure-washer company, said: 'It feels amazing. The previous record was 69 people freeflying in formation so we absolutely smashed it. 'One jumper got into trouble and it's utter chaos up there so finding your allocated slot in the formation can be very tough. 'Eventually he managed to make his way through the crowd and get into position but it was really tight. We were nearing the lowest altitude we could do it from so we were only able to hold it for a second before we broke off to get ready for landing. 'We knew we had done it though and people were screaming with joy before we even got to ground.' Courageous team members jumped from five different planes and raced to join the first jumpers who had started the centre of the formation below them. To make sure all jumpers arrived at the same point in the air, those last to leave the plane needed to accelerate to eye-blistering speeds of over 180mph in order to catch up with their colleagues.

World air sports officials Federation Aeronautique International judged the attempt and confirmed it as a record when the jumpers returned to their base. The 108 international freeflyers were carefully selected over a year of qualifications from events around the world. The final selection of expert jumpers performed preparatory jumps starting on Wednesday and gradually built up to 108 in formation. Venezuelan Luis, who lives in Florida, said: 'Planning was everything. "You can't hear anything up there so once you are in the air you can't communicate. 'It all came down to knowing where your spot was and getting there after fighting through dozens of bodies floating around you at 180mph. 'We all partied pretty hard on Friday night. It's an amazing feeling.' The stunning aerial photos were captured by expert photographer Norman Kent. The 52-year-old is frequently hired by big movie producers to manage high-altitude camerawork. His latest films include Get Smart with luscious Anne Hathaway and action man Steve Carell. American Kent was hired as Director of Aerial Photography.