Sky­divers killed, col­li­sion sus­pected

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - CHAR­LIE PEEL MARK SCHLIEBS

A freak high-al­ti­tude col­li­sion is be­lieved to be be­hind the deaths of three sky­divers in the north Queens­land tourist town of Mis­sion Beach yes­ter­day.

The trio plum­meted to their deaths to the hor­ror of on­look­ers on the beach be­low. They landed in a sparsely pop­u­lated area near the Clump Point jetty, 100km south of Cairns.

Queens­land po­lice last night con­firmed two men in their 30s and a wo­man in her 50s were found dead.

A freak high-al­ti­tude col­li­sion is be­lieved to be be­hind the deaths of three sky­divers in the north Queens­land tourist town of Mis­sion Beach yes­ter­day.

The trio plum­meted to their deaths to the hor­ror of on­look­ers on the beach be­low.

They landed in a sparsely pop­u­lated area near the Clump Point jetty, 100km south of Cairns, some dis­tance off course from the usual sky­dive land­ing spot.

Queens­land po­lice last night con­firmed two men in their 30s and a wo­man in her 50s were found dead.

The wo­man was last night re­ported to be Mis­sion Beach mother of eight Kerri Pike.

A wit­ness, who did not want to be named, said he had been drink­ing a cof­fee and watch­ing the sky­divers come down when he no­ticed some­thing was wrong.

“I looked up to watch the sky­divers, like I nor­mally do, on the beach,” he said.

“I saw the chutes open and looked to what I thought was the air­craft fuse­lage be­cause it was that high up.

“Then I re­alised it wasn’t the fuse­lage, it was a tan­gled chute.”

He ini­tially thought the chute had been cut.

“Then I re­alised that with the ve­loc­ity it was trav­el­ling at it wasn’t a cut chute and it was trav­el­ling faster than the other parachuters,” he said.

“The parachuters weren’t do­ing their usual rolling around and aer­o­bat­ics and I re­alised some­body was in trou­ble.”

He sat for sev­eral min­utes hop­ing the chute would be cut and a re­serve de­ployed.

“It didn’t hap­pen and they just went be­hind the tree line where I couldn’t see where they landed, but I could see it wasn’t near the ocean or where they were meant to be,” the man said.

“I didn’t see a col­li­sion, so what­ever hap­pened must have hap­pened at high al­ti­tude.

“I couldn’t tell whether it was a sin­gle per­son or a tan­dem.”

The wit­ness said it was only when an am­bu­lance and po­lice went past that he re­alised the sig­nif­i­cance of what he had ob­served.

Po­lice cor­doned off the area and last night were trac­ing the next of kin of the three vic­tims.

“Shortly af­ter 3pm, ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­di­cate that a solo sky­diver may have col­lided with tan­dem sky­divers in midair with their para­chutes fail­ing to de­ploy cor­rectly,” Queens­land Po­lice said in a state­ment.

Sky­div­ing is a pop­u­lar tourist ac­tiv­ity at Mis­sion Beach, with divers usu­ally glid­ing in to land along the town’s 14km stretch of coast­line, which is fringed by rain­for­est.

But this jump went trag­i­cally wrong, with the divers com­ing down op­po­site Alexan­der Drive near the pop­u­lar Cut­ten Broth­ers Walk­ing Track.

The group struck the ground at a block of land bor­dered by rain­for­est and banana farms.

A lo­cal source said it ap­peared there had been an en­tan­gle­ment at high al­ti­tude be­fore the crash.

Most in­struc­tors live in the Mis­sion Beach and In­n­is­fail ar­eas.

Lo­cal coun­cil­lor Wayne Kim­ber­ley said the in­ci­dent was a tragedy for the tourist town.

“We will be sup­port­ing any­thing the in­dus­try needs,” he said.

“Tourism is a very, very im­por­tant part of our re­gion, par­tic­u­larly in Mis­sion Beach.”

Cas­sowary Coast Re­gional Coun­cil mayor John Kre­mas­tos said his thoughts were with the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims.

“At the mo­ment I’m numb like the rest of the com­mu­nity and our hearts and prayers go out to the fam­i­lies in­volved,” said Mr Kre­mas­tos.

CHRIS HOLMES

One of the para­chutes in a tree at the scene

Kerri Pike

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