New Zealand: Skydiving plane ditches in lake

A police spokeswoman said there were six passengers, six crew members and a pilot aboard. Picture: AP
A police spokeswoman said there were six passengers, six crew members and a pilot aboard. Picture: AP
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All 13 people aboard a New Zealand skydiving plane that suffered an apparent engine failure yesterday managed to parachute to safety moments before the plane plunged into a lake, authorities said.

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said there were six passengers, six crew members and a pilot aboard and all of them landed safely.

Roy Clements, the chief executive of plane operator Skydive Taupo, said the passengers were all overseas tourists who had each been assigned an instructor for a tandem dive at planned heights of 12,000 feet for some and 15,000 feet for others. But soon after the plane took off, something went wrong at an altitude of about 2,000 feet.

“The plane just made a big bang and then it stopped,” he said. “The pilot told them to get out. He didn’t have to tell them twice.”

He said the instructors were already wearing parachutes but each needed to hastily clip their passenger’s harness with four attachments before leaping from the plane. He said the pilot was also wearing a parachute, which is standard in skydiving operations, and leapt only after ensuring everybody else was safely off the plane.

Mr Clements said the staff had practised emergency drills before and everybody remained calm during the incident, perhaps not realising at the time the extent of the peril they faced. He said everybody managed to manoeuvre their parachutes over the water and on to the beach or shoreline before landing.

“I was happy to see them all walk back into the hangar,” Mr Clements said.

He said the plane had an engine problem shortly after takeoff. Transport authorities were on their way to the crash site to begin an investigation, he added.

“It’s apparently in quite shallow water close to the shore and we’ve got a salvage team on its way out there now to help get the wreckage out,” said a spokesman for the New Zealand transport accident investigation commission. “We’ll get it down to here in Wellington where we can do an inspection of it.”

The plane was a New Zealand-built Pacific Aerospace Ltd. P-750 XL.

“I saw everyone deploy out of the plane and the next minute it was in the lake,” witness Bevan Johnhill told New Zealand’s TV3 network. Police initially said the pilot landed in the water and swam ashore, but a spokeswoman later indicated the pilot landed on the shore.

Robbie Graham, an artist who works at the Wildwood Art Gallery in the town of Waitahanui, 50 miles south of Rotorua, said he was standing in front of the gallery when he saw a number of people in parachutes coming down above the lake about half-a-mile away.

“I saw all these people coming down, and I thought that was a crazy place to be coming down, that they would all end up in the lake,” he said.

Mr Graham said it was a stunning day and that many holidaymakers would have witnessed the crash from a nearby beach.