13 skydivers parachute to safety as New Zealand plane crashes into lake

The pilot was also wearing a parachute and leapt only after ensuring everybody else was safely off the plane

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All 13 people aboard a New Zealand skydiving plane that suffered an apparent engine failure Wednesday managed to leap out in parachutes moments before the plane plunged into a lake, according to authorities.

Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said there were six passengers, six crew members and a pilot aboard and all of them landed safely and without significant injuries.

Roy Clements, the chief executive of plane operator Skydive Taupo, said the passengers were all overseas tourists who had each been assigned an instructor for a tandem dive at planned heights of 12,000 feet for some and 15,000 feet for others.

But soon after the plane took off, he said, at an altitude of about 2,000 feet, something went wrong.

“The plane just made a big bang and then it stopped,” he said. “The pilot told them to get out. He didn’t have to tell them twice.”

He said each instructor was already wearing a parachute but needed to hastily clip in each passenger’s harness with four attachments before leaping from the plane. He said the pilot was also wearing a parachute, which is standard in skydiving operations, and leapt only after ensuring everybody else was safely off the plane.

He said the staff had practiced emergency drills before and everybody remained calm during the incident, perhaps not realizing at the time the extent of the peril they faced. He said everybody managed to maneuver their parachutes over the water and onto the beach or shoreline before landing.

“I was happy to see them all walk back into the hangar,” he said.

He said transport accident investigators were on their way to the crash site to open an investigation into what went wrong. He said the plane was a New Zealand-built Pacific Aerospace Ltd. 750 XL.

Robbie Graham, an artist who works at the Wildwood Art Gallery in the town of Waitahanui, said he was standing in front of the gallery when he saw a number of people in parachutes coming down above the lake about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) away. He said he didn’t see the plane crash.

“I saw all these people coming down, and I thought that was a crazy place to be coming down, that they would all end up in the lake,” he said.

He said the parachutists were close to the water when he saw them, and the only thing that made sense to him was that perhaps they were engaged in some kind of training exercise.

Graham said it was a stunning day and that many holidaymakers would have witnessed the crash from a nearby beach.

Lake Taupo is popular among holidaymakers and tourists at this time of year, during the Southern Hemisphere summer.