Skydiver dies during record group-jump try in Arizona

Skydivers form a missing man formation in Eloy, Arizona on April 3, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS
Skydivers form a missing man formation in Eloy, Arizona on April 3, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOENIX (REUTERS) - A German skydiver who was among 222 people trying to set a world record with a group-formation jump was killed on Thursday in the Arizona desert when her main parachute malfunctioned, police and a spokesman for the skydiving facility said.

The skydiver, identified by police as 46-year-old Diana Paris of Berlin, was taking part in a first attempt to set the record on Thursday morning when the mishap occurred, organizers said. She was declared dead on the scene.

"The malfunctioning parachute was released too low to allow the reserve parachute to fully open," said Ms Jocelyn Bernatchez, a spokesman for SkyDive Arizona, the facility about 65 miles (105 km) south of Phoenix in Eloy where the event took place.

Ms Bernatchez said the airplane involved had been functioning properly, and that weather conditions in Eloy were good at the time of the accident, which occurred at about 7.30am local time.

The team of 222 veteran skydivers from 28 countries had come to the popular US facility to try to break a record for the largest number of people to complete two aerial formations before deploying their parachutes.

The previous record, involving 110 skydivers, was set last year in Florida.

Organisers said safety was foremost in their minds in their planning and execution of the complicated maneuver, an effort that had been 18 months in the making.

Skydivers were to be at an altitude of about 19,500 feet (6,000 metres) during the record-breaking attempt, with an average free-fall speed of about 120 miles per hour (190 kmh).

Under the plan, skydivers in multi-coloured jumpsuits are taken aloft by 10 planes and have 80 seconds to complete kaleidoscope-like formations before opening their chutes.

After the death, the team performed a special jump in Ms Paris' honour involving a maneuver called a missing man formation, said Ms Gulcin Gilbert, a spokesman for the World Team group that organised the jump.

The team planned to continue trying throughout the day on Friday, but with 221 skydivers instead of 222, she said.

"Our dear friend cannot and will not be replaced," she said in a press release. "The group will continue to hold the slot open in the skydiver's honour."

Police said the husband of the deceased skydiver told them that she was an experienced jumper who had participated in 1,500 skydives.

Eloy police spokesman Brian Jerome said in a statement the incident was being investigated by police and the Federal Aviation Administration, which would examine whether the parachute did indeed malfunction.

Thursday's accident marked the third skydiving death since December stemming from an attempt to break a record in the sport.

In the same facility last December, two skydivers were killed after colliding at a height of 200 to 300 feet (61 to 91 metres) and falling to the ground in what authorities ruled an accident.

Briton Keiron O'Rourke, 40, and Bernd Schmehl, 51, of Germany, were part of a group of 200 skydivers from another organisation trying to break the double-formation record.

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