News National Skydiving tragedy: the real risks of a thrill-seeking sport

Skydiving tragedy: the real risks of a thrill-seeking sport

Australia has an average of just over two skydiving deaths per year. Photo: Getty
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The tragic deaths of two skydiving instructors and a novice jumper celebrating her birthday have raised the question of just how safe skydiving is in Australia.

Skydiving enthusiasts Peter Dawson, 35, and Toby Turner, 34, and 54-year-old jumper and mother-of-eight Kerri Pike died in what authorities believe to have been a “mid-air collision” between tandem and single skydivers at Mission Beach on Friday afternoon.

Skydive Australia has suspended its operations in Mission Beach pending a full inquiry into the fatalities.

The bodies of the two experienced instructors and Ms Pike were found on a banana farm and in the garden of a nearby house.

Sadly, it’s not the first skydiving tragedy in Australia this year and even seasoned divers are not immune to the risks of the thrill-seeking sport.

The Mission Beach accident follows a “highly experienced” 63-year-old instructor and a 29-year-old Singaporean student falling to their death in south-west Sydney in July.

In 2015 there were four parachuting fatalities. Two of the deceased jumpers died participating in a canopy-handling course and became entangled during the descent.

There were no skydiving fatalities in the country in 2016, but two serious incidents occurred involving life-threatening injuries.

Both of these were in Queensland and both have been investigated and reviewed by the Technical and Safety Committee. The two jumpers involved are continuing to recover.

skydiving deaths
Peter Dawson, Kerri Pike and Toby Turner died after an apparent mid-air collision.

According to the 2016 annual report from the Australian Parachute Federation, 22 people died from skydiving in Australia between the years of 2006 and 2015.

That averaged out to just over two fatalities per year, with the organisation noting only 23 per cent of skydiving deaths were students or novices.

In 2012, the report recorded a staggering six fatal accidents in Australia an estimated 305,200 jumps.

According to world experts on the subject, skydiving increases the risk of dying by about eight to nine micromorts per jump, meaning you have roughly a one-in-100,000 chance of dying,

Dr Anton Westman from the Umea University in Sweden revealed in his research this statistic was similar to the risk of a mother dying during childbirth.

Jumping out of a plane hasn’t always been a popular activity, but millennials – who increasingly prefer experiences over material goods – have flocked to the thrill-seeking sport.

Wollongong-based operator Skydive The Beach performs about 100,000 tandem jumps around Australia a year with a record of 346 in a day, according to The Australian.

The newspaper reported 82 per cent of the jumpers are between 18 and 34 and spend an average $400 each on the experience.

And while death is the obvious concern, skydiving injuries often involve  dislocation of limbs and bone fractures due to high impact landing on both land and water.

In 2013, a study published in the Aviation, Space, Environment and Medicine Journal found skydivers were subject to decelerating forces during parachute opening shock to possibly as much as 3-5 g-forces.

“Neck pain related to parachute opening shock was common among skydivers,” the research said.

Parachute or lifejacket malfunctions can also increase injury risk. Spinal cord injuries, paralysis and traumatic brain injuries have also been recorded.

Rob Dawson, the brother of Peter Dawson, told the Daily Mail his brother’s passion for free-fall stemmed from the ‘call to the void’, or ‘L’appel du Vide’.

“It’s where you’re standing at the edge of a cliff and feel the urge to jump,” he said. “Well, Pete always jumped.”

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