Cherilyn and Gunnery Sgt. Brandon McGraw thought they got the trip of a lifetime when the former won the "Stuff Your Down Under Pants" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in January. Instead, the vacation turned to tragedy when 33-year-old Brandon McGraw, a Marine stationed at Camp Lejune, was killed in a skydiving accident.
"It's tragic," said William Sidberry, a neighbor of the Ellen contest winners. "Death is tragic either way but I don't really have the words to express it. My feeling is if you make it home I felt like it was safe after I made it home and I'm sure both of them felt the same way. We'll miss him."
According to the Jacksonville Daily News, the deadly accident took place at Euroa Skydive during the vacation. Cherilyn performed a tandem jump with an instructor, but Brandon McGraw made his jump alone, since he had more experience.
"McGraw watched his wife do a tandem jump before exiting the plane," said Ian Matthews, an employee of Euroa Skydive. "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."
Paramedics rushed to the location and found Brandon McGraw in cardiac arrest. The Ellen DeGeneres Show contest winner died at the scene. According to the Daily News, it was the first death at Euroa since the school opened in 1983.
It is unclear exactly what caused Brandon McGraw's parachute to veer off course. But reports indicate that high wins may have played a role in the crash.
Cherilyn McGraw posted several photos on Facebook as a tribute to her husband. The images include shots of Brandon McGraw in a plane, apparently right before the fatal accident.
"My hero," she wrote on Facebook after her husband's death. "My angel. These are truly such symbolic photos. He was happy and doing what he loved. It's amazing all that photos can capture in a moments time. The last 2 photos taken. I love you more than anything in the world, honey. You are the most amazing man."
In a later post, Cherilyn McGraw added: "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.)"
Cherilyn McGraw won the trip on Ellen after stuffing the most balls into oversized pants. Video of her victory was posted online, but it has since been removed.
UPDATE: Ellen DeGeneres has now released a statement in the wake of this contest winner's death.
"I've been speaking with Cherilyn," the host told Us Weekly. "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."