A parachute caught up in a tree on Alexander Drive, Mission Beach where one person fell to their death in a skydiving accident. Pic: CHRIS HOLMES, INNISFAIL ADVOCATE
A parachute caught up in a tree on Alexander Drive, Mission Beach where one person fell to their death in a skydiving accident. Pic: CHRIS HOLMES, INNISFAIL ADVOCATE

Skydive inquest told parachute deployed early

THE early deployment of a "far too small" parachute was the likely cause of a Mission Beach skydiving collision that killed a mother of eight and two experienced skydive instructors, a coronial inquest heard yesterday.

Kerri Anne Pike, 54, Toby Turner, 34 and Peter Dawson, 35, died on October 13, 2017 following a mid-air collision at speeds in excess of 200km/h.

A parachute caught up in a tree on Alexander Drive, Mission Beach where one person fell to their death in a skydiving accident. Pic: CHRIS HOLMES, INNISFAIL ADVOCATE
A parachute caught up in a tree on Alexander Drive, Mission Beach where one person fell to their death in a skydiving accident. Pic: CHRIS HOLMES, INNISFAIL ADVOCATE

Chief instructor Mr Turner was conducting a solo sport jump while Mr Dawson was taking Mrs Pike on a tandem jump - which was a present for her 54th birthday. The first day of a Cairns coronial inquest under Coroner Nerida Wilson heard that the main cause of the collision was Mr Turner's main parachute prematurely deploying while he was underneath the tandem pair.

Toby Turner, Kerri Pike and Peter Dawson were killed in a skydiving incident at Mission Beach.
Toby Turner, Kerri Pike and Peter Dawson were killed in a skydiving incident at Mission Beach.

Australian Parachuting Federation investigator and skydive instructor Mike Pettitt told the court Mr Turner's "far too small" main canopy most likely opened when its holding pin worked free.

After Mr Turner collided with Mr Dawson and Mrs Pike, his reserve chute opened and he plummeted to the front yard of an Alexander Drive home trailing the damaged, holed main and reserve canopies.

"The chances of the reserve chute handle being dislodged were extremely high," Mr Pettitt said.

He said the main canopy was too loose for the container in which it was packed.

"I must admit when I saw the video of the canopy being repacked I was pretty horrified that the system was out there," Mr Pettitt said.

Mr Turner's 2003 harness system held a main chute container that could accommodate 150 square feet.

However, the main parachute only had a volume of 90 square feet, which did not provide enough tension to hold the retaining pin in its place. Mr Pettitt said jumpers would "downsize" their chute with experience but were expected to fit correct canopies to their containers.

New jumpers would have their gear inspected by drop zone safety officers, but highly experienced instructors like Mr Turner were trusted to keep safe rigs.

Mr Pettitt agreed with Coroner Wilson's suggestion that Mr Turner's parachute "was not fit for purpose".

"I suspect it was something he did once and it worked, so he kept doing it," he said. "He held the highest rating possible - as a DSO you would expect him to be able to make that choice."

Sergeant Scott Ezard of the Cairns Forensic Crash Unit liaised with the APF at Mission Beach.

He said parachute manufacturers' guidelines - which advised correct container sizes for canopies - were not strictly followed.

"It went from complete complacency to (seen as) a guide that should be followed,"
Sgt Ezard said.

"There are no clear regulations."

The inquest continues.



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