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Escape artist safely escapes coffin, handcuffs while free falling from 14,500 feet

SERENA, Ill. — A Wisconsin daredevil parachuted gently into a northern Illinois field Tuesday after managing to free himself from shackles and a locked coffin while plummeting through the air.

Anthony Martin waved to the cameras and the crowd that turned out to watch his stunt after he landed in Serena, Ill., about 70 miles southwest of Chicago.

After being dragged from a plane at about 14,500 feet up, the coffin whipped wildly from side-to-side with Martin inside. One of the two skydivers who were steadying the box was hit in the face, but everyone landed safely.

Martin, 47, said that after freeing himself, he got clear of the coffin and tracked it as it fell to the ground, just as he did when he first pulled off the stunt 25 years ago on just his 17th skydive.

The Sheboygan, Wis., man began studying the art of escape at age 6 after his father shattered his early fascination with magic by explaining the trickery behind a floating pen illusion.

“I thought that skill and knowledge could surpass trickery and magic,” he said.

Martin took locks apart until he understood how the mechanisms operate and are put together.

“At 10 I had pretty much started to specialize in escapes,” Martin says. “By the time I was 13, the sheriff was locking me in his handcuffs. And I was getting out.”

Jumping from a raft into a lake at age 11 — naturally, with his hands cuffed behind his back — whet Martin’s appetite for high risk escapes. So in February 1990, he performed his most dangerous water stunt, in which he was locked in a cage and lowered through a hole in the ice and into the frigid water at a Wisconsin quarry. It took him one minute and 45 seconds to emerge.

“It was very, very cold,” Martin said. “It doesn’t take long for your fingers, even with gloves, to get numb and lose effectiveness … you have to work very quickly.”

Martin first pulled off dropped coffin stunt in an August 1988 on just his 17th skydive.

During Tuesday’s jump, Martin laid inside a plywood box with his hands cuffed to a belt around his waist and his right arm chained to the inside of the box. The casket’s door was then held tight with a prison door lock for which no key exists; a locksmith scrambled the tumblers.

The box was dragged from the plane at about 14,500 feet, and two skydivers helped stabilize it by holding handles on its side while a drogue similar to the parachutes used to slow drag-racing cars and fighter jets further steadied it.

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