Solo jumper asked to join fatal skydive, inquest hears
A SOLO sports jumper who fatally collided with a mother of eight and her skydive instructor over Mission Beach last October was a last-minute addition to their group, a coronial inquest heard today.
Sky Dive Australia employee and senior skydiver Brandon Van Niekerk was the Drop Zone Safety Officer at Mission Beach on Friday October 13, 2017, and took part in the same jump as Tobias Turner, 34, Kerri Pike, 54, and Peter Dawson, 35.
He gave evidence in Cairns Coroners Court today after being compelled to do so by Coroner Nerida Wilson.
Mr Van Niekerk had previously declined to give evidence on the basis of potential self incrimination.
He told the court he was responsible for what happened on the drop zone that day,
"As DZO you are responsible for everything that happens ... you'd be scanning everything to make sure everything was as it should be," Mr Van Niekerk, 53, said.
Mr Turner collided in mid air with Mrs Pike and Mr Dawson at more than 200km/h and the three fell to their deaths.
Mr Van Niekerk said Mr Turner, a chief instructor with Skydive Australia, had asked to join the jump in which Mrs Pike would participate in a tandem harness with instructor Peter Dawson.
"Toby came to ask if he could be on the jump as we were getting ready," Mr Van Niekerk said.
"There had been discussion; Peter was very excited about taking Mrs Pike up; he was close with the family."
He said "there was excitement surrounding" the jump.
"For a student having someone there in free fall is an amazing thing,' Mr Van Niekerk said.
"If there's someone floating in front of you is awesome."
The court heard that Mr Turner - "a thoroughly professional and very skillful" skydiver, had not conducted a sports jump with Sky Dive Australia Mission Beach since June that year.
"It wasn't a regular thing for Toby to do a sports jump - it was a few months since he had done a sports jump," Mr Van Niekerk said.
He said he did not give formal authorisation for Toby to join the jump and conduct 'relative work' by interacting with the tandem pair in the air, but would have if it was sought.
"The authorisation was implied," he said.
The inquest yesterday heard that Mr Turner's main canopy had opened prematurely prior to the collision because it was too small for its container.
Mr Van Niekerk said even if he had, as DZSO, visually inspected Mr Turner's rig, he would not have been able to tell if the canopy fully fitted the container.
"All my experience of Toby and his performance - his care of the equipment was top notch," he said,
"I never had cause for concern about his professionalism."
The inquest continues.