Muriwai skydiving tragedy: Skydiving industry boss wants lifeboats made compulsory for beach landings

Skydiving victim Sarah-Jane Bayram was ticking off a bucket list of adventures that led her to skydiving. Photo / Provided

A skydiving industry boss wants emergency lifeboats made compulsory for all beach landings after a skydiver was washed out to sea in Auckland.

There are also growing concerns that impressionable young skydivers watch high-risk maneuvers on YouTube and then attempt to emulate what they have seen on solo jumps, in some cases with fatal consequences.

Stuart Bean, president of the New Zealand Parachute Industry Association (NZPIA), said a recent cluster of skydiving deaths raises questions about what drives skydivers to make rash decisions that cost lives.

Bean admits that risk takers are often drawn to the sport and he worries about the changing culture and attitudes of some young skydivers.

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

“Even if you try to find blame, the fact is that it is very likely that all standards and requirements have been met.”

Bean believed that accidents were usually caused by individuals making poor decisions.

“Perhaps this is [due to] change in people’s attitudes. They see things online and are less afraid of the results of bad decisions.”

British parachutist Sarah-Jane Bayram has died after a skydiving accident over Muriwai Beach.  Photo / Provided
British parachutist Sarah-Jane Bayram has died after a skydiving accident over Muriwai Beach. Photo / Provided

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

Prior to the cluster, there had been no solo parachute fatalities since 2012.

The tragedies prompted calls for a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) audit.

The companies defend their safety record, saying graduates receive proper training but depart as certified skydivers responsible for following aviation safety rules.

Irish national Jack Creane, 27, died in a skydiving incident in Parakai in March 2019. Photo/Supplied
Irish national Jack Creane, 27, died in a skydiving incident in Parakai in March 2019. Photo/Supplied

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

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

Theo Williams, 21, died in a skydiving accident in Tauranga in March 2021. Photo/Supplied
Theo Williams, 21, died in a skydiving accident in Tauranga in March 2021. Photo/Supplied

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

The Herald revealed that Bayram had worried about wind conditions before boarding the plane, and two others refused time slots on the jump due to similar concerns.

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

The Skydive Auckland drop zone operator had no lifeboats on standby and had not informed surf lifesavers of the sunset jump.

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

Asked if he thought lifeboats should be mandatory in light of Bayram’s death, Bean replied: “Yes. I think if you’re planning to land on a beach at the water’s edge, you should have a lifeboat.”

Stuart Bean is the president of the New Zealand Parachute Industry Association.  Picture / File
Stuart Bean is the president of the New Zealand Parachute Industry Association. Picture / File

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

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

It had no authority to suspend or revoke individual certificates, or to undertake investigations into skydiving accidents, Bean said. It depended on the CAA.

“All we can do is discuss the need for higher minimum standards before these people are put in situations where they make these decisions.”

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

However, training must be constantly reviewed in light of new equipment and techniques, he said.

Jack Creane, 27, dreamed of studying skydiving in New Zealand to pursue an international high-altitude jumping career.  Photo / Provided
Jack Creane, 27, dreamed of studying skydiving in New Zealand to pursue an international high-altitude jumping career. Photo / Provided

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

The Herald asked the companies if the review had taken place and what changes had occurred. Skydive Auckland CEO and co-director Tony Green had no comment.

Asked if he would consider an audit of the Parakai parachute and training operation in light of the three deaths, a CAA spokesperson said the operation “falls under the umbrella from the NZPIA.

The NZPIA was authorized to provide control and oversight of recreational skydiving activities and required to investigate “all occurrences” to identify potential problems.

The CAA would review all relevant accident and incident safety data when renewing the NZPIA’s operating certificate later this year.

Responding to the CAA’s statement, Bean said “of course they will veer off on their own,” adding that his association had no authority over Parakai’s operations, which were the responsibility of the CAA. CAA.

The CAA is investigating both the deaths of Bayram and Williams and would not respond to specific questions while those investigations were ongoing.

A spokesperson confirmed it would review all recommendations from its accident investigations before deciding whether “additional regulation” was needed for beach landings involving recreational skydivers.

Earnest A. Martinez