Muriwai skydiving tragedy: Parachuting industry boss wants rescue boats made mandatory for beach landings

A parachuting industry boss wants standby rescue boats made mandatory for all beach landings after a British skydiver was blown out to sea to her death.

There are also growing concerns about impressionable young skydivers watching high-risk manoeuvres on YouTube then trying to imitate what they’ve seen during solo jumps, in some cases with fatal consequences.

Stuart Bean, chairman of the New Zealand Parachute Industry Association (NZPIA), says a recent cluster of skydiving deaths raises questions about what’s triggering parachutists to make rash decisions that are costing lives.

Bean admits risk-takers are often drawn to the sport and he’s worried about the changing culture and attitudes of some young skydivers.

NZPIA plans to assess what is behind any cultural change and what can be done to curb bad decision-making to prevent further tragedies.

“As much as you try to find blame, the fact of the matter is it’s most likely that all standards and requirements were met.”

Bean believed that accidents were generally down to individuals making bad decisions.

“That’s possibly [due to] changing attitudes of individuals. They see things online and have less fear of the results of poor decisions.”

A Herald on Sunday investigation has revealed that three recreational skydivers have died in as many years. Two were on Skydive Auckland jumps, and all three fatalities involved recent graduates from sister company the New Zealand Skydiving School, which is based at the same Parakai facility.

Prior to the cluster there had been no solo parachuting deaths since 2012.

The tragedies have sparked callsfor a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) audit.

The companies are defending their safety record, saying graduates receive proper training but leave as certified parachutists who are responsible for observing aviation safety rules.

Irish national Jack Creane, 27, was fatally injured during a hard landing at Parakai in March 2019 after making a mysterious sharp turn just 100 feet from the ground.

Theo Williams, 21, died in March last year after hitting the ground at speed at Tauranga.

And British parachutist Sarah-Jane Bayram, 43, plummeted into the sea after a mid-air collision with a skydiving school graduate during a nine-person formation jump over Muriwai Beach last month.

The Herald revealed that Bayram had expressed concern about the wind conditions before boarding the aircraft, and two others declined slots on the jump due to similar concerns.

“If something goes wrong you’re going to be blown out to sea,” one of them told the Herald.

Drop zone operator Skydive Auckland had no rescue craft on standby and had not briefed surf lifeguards about the sunset jump.

The CAA says there is no such requirement for recreational beach landings, though skydiving sources say recovery craft are common at other drop zones.

Asked if he thought rescue boats should be mandatory in light of Bayram’s death, Bean said: “Yes. I think if you intend to land on a beach beside the water you should have a rescue craft.”

But he said it was up the regulator CAA to make any necessary rule change, a costly and convoluted process.

The NZPIA was responsible for certifying recreational jumpers and issuing ratings allowing them to tackle jumps of stipulated difficulty or expertise.

It did not have the power to suspend or revoke individual certificates, or to undertake investigations into skydiving accidents, Bean said. That was up to the CAA.

“All we can do is talk about whether we need to set higher minimum standards before these people are put in situations where they make those decisions.”

Though each of the fatal accidents involved recent graduates, Bean did not believe the deaths reflected any failure in their training.

However, training should be constantly reviewed in light of newly emerging equipment and techniques, he said.

A coroner’s finding into Creane’s death, released late last year, noted that Skydive Auckland and the skydiving school planned to undertake a peer review of the course content surrounding flight planning and decision-making to ensure it was adequate.

The Herald asked the companies whether the review had taken place and what changes had occurred. Skydive Auckland CEO and joint director Tony Green did not comment.

Asked if it would consider an audit of the Parakai skydiving and training operation in light of the three deaths, a CAA spokesman said the operation “falls under the umbrella” of the NZPIA.

NZPIA was authorised to provide control and oversight of recreational parachuting activities and required to investigate “all occurrences” to identify potential concerns.

The CAA would consider all relevant safety data around accidents and incidents when it came time to renew NZPIA’s operating certificate later this year.

In response to the CAA statement, Bean said “of course they’re going to deflect from themselves”, adding that his association had no authority over the Parakai operations, which were the responsibility of the CAA.

The CAA is investigating both the Bayram and Williams deaths and would not answer specific questions while those investigations were underway.

A spokesman confirmed it would review any recommendations from its accident inquiries before deciding if “additional regulation” was necessary for beach landings involving recreational skydivers.

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