It was a dream vacation gone horribly wrong.
When Cherilyn McGraw of North Carolina won a trip to Australia for herself and her husband, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brandon McGraw, 33, on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" back in January, they were supposed to be on the trip of a lifetime. Instead, it ended in tragedy last Saturday when Brandon didn't survive a skydiving jump after his parachute somehow malfunctioned.
On Thursday, Ellen DeGeneres issued a statement asking for privacy for Cherilyn, "I've been speaking with Cherilyn. And my staff has been in touch with her as well. She's asked us to help keep this private as she tries to deal with this unimaginable tragedy. I hope everyone respects that."
Brandon and Cherilyn's tragic accident took place at Euroa Skydive about 100 km north of Melbourne. Brandon was an experienced skydiver who was making a solo jump. He watched his wife make a tandem jump from the plane before he jumped.
Ian Matthews, who works at Euroa Skydive, shared what he witnessed that day with the Daily News of Jacksonville, North Carolina, telling the local paper that Brandon had "more than a few jumps under his belt."
"McGraw watched his wife do a tandem jump before exiting the plane," he noted. "He floated for three or four minutes with a good canopy … A short time before landing, he suddenly began turning his parachute dramatically to the left and right and eventually crashed into the ground."
Brandon was in cardiac arrest when medics reached him on the ground. However, no cause of death has been issued yet. Media in Australia has speculated that high winds that day may have contributed to the tragedy. Brandon's death is reportedly the first fatality at Euroa since it opened in 1983; the business claims on its website that it has "the best safety record in Victoria without question!"
On Monday, in a post that has since been taken down, Cherilyn shared photos from the trip and memories of her husband, writing, "My hero. My angel. These are truly such symbolic photos. He was happy and doing what he loved… I love you more than anything in the world, honey. You are the most amazing man."
She continued, "I just want to say that this stupid Facebook has been my saving grace this week. I'm beyond honored and words will never be able to express my gratitude for all the love, support and prayers. You all have kept me SO strong. I am in mission mode to get us back to the USA. We cannot wait to get home. (I don't know when we'll be home and I won't be sharing when We get home so please don't ask.)"
Brandon had reportedly returned recently from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He had also served at least one tour in Iraq and was decorated with over 20 medals and ribbons for his service. The Marine Corps issued the following statement on his passing, "It is with a heavy heart that MARSOC announces the passing of one of our Marines. He was a consummate professional, who upheld our warrior ethos each and every day. Our heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers are with his family as they mourn the loss of their loved one."
Cherilyn is a special education teacher at Topsail Elementary School in Hampstead, North Carolina. She won the Australia trip during a contest on Ellen's show on Jan. 16, in a contest called "Stuff Your Down Under Pants."