BRUSSELS — A jealous skydiver caught up in a love triangle sabotaged the parachute of her close friend, sending the woman plunging 13,000 feet to her death in a horrifying fall captured on video, Belgian prosecutors said yesterday.
As her murder trial opened yesterday, Els Clottemans sat nervously in front of the mud-caked parachute bag and helmet that Els Van Doren wore as she frantically tried to open her parachute before crashing to the ground in November 2006.
Clottemans, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, has vehemently denied the murder charge and accusations she killed her friend to claim for herself the Dutch skydiver who had a romantic relationship with both. Her lawyers say there is no hard evidence to link her to the crime.
In a 68-page indictment, the prosecution said Clottemans had both the time and the knowledge to sabotage the parachute and asserted that eliminating a romantic rival was the motive.
Defense lawyer Vic Van Aelst said prosecutors have nothing to tie his client to the death.
“It cannot be true that you condemn someone to the most serious punishment based on claims and declarations,’’ Van Aelst said.
Clottemans became a prime suspect when she attempted suicide hours before she was to make a second statement to police a month after the death.
The trial is expected to last a month and will include testimony from Marcel Somers, who is at the center of the alleged love triangle.
On Nov. 18, 2006, Van Doren, an experienced skydiver with about 2,300 jumps to her name, leapt out of a Cessna plane together with Clottemans, Marcel, and another skydiver, intending to perform tricks in the sky.
Clottemans, however, said she jumped a fraction too late and did not join the maneuvers with the other three. When the sign was given to open the parachutes, Van Doren struggled with her parachute and hurtled toward the ground.
A videocamera on Van Doren’s gear recorded her desperate struggle as she tried to release her reserve parachute. The video ended as she landed in a suburban garden.
“The first question a family normally asks is whether the victim suffered, whether she knew what happened,’’ said Jef Vermassen, a lawyer for Van Doren’s family. “We don’t have to ask. It was filmed.’’
Media interest in the trial was so strong that authorities had to open up a room next to the courthouse, so that throngs of journalists could follow the proceedings through remote video.