TAIC reports on tandem skydive accident

10 Jun 2021
Photo depicts the skydiving aircraft
The skydiving aircraft | TAIC photo

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its Final Report into a fatal accident in which a tandem skydiving pair crash-landed into Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown in January 2018.

TAIC’s Chief Investigator of Accidents, Harald Hendel, says the tandem pair experienced a double parachute malfunction, and the tandem rider’s lifejacket did not properly inflate. The rider was lost in the lake, presumed deceased.

“To all parachutists, we’re saying accidental landings in water are possible and riskier than you might think, so it’s vital that you practice doing it,” said Mr Hendel.

The skydive had gone as normal until the main parachute opened unevenly with suspension lines twisted. The tandem master couldn’t correct the line twist, so cut away the main chute and deployed the reserve. Tension knots shortened some suspension lines of the reserve chute, distorting its canopy and causing a fast spin.

“The Commission found the main chute’s uneven opening and twisted lines – a hazard that parachutists anticipate and practice for – was likely due to its packing,” said Mr Hendel.

“We couldn’t conclusively determine why tension knots appeared in the reserve chute’s lines.”

Just before the pair hit the water, the tandem master managed to ease the spin rate and reduce the force of impact. The tandem master dived underwater, cut away lines entwined around the legs of both and tried unsuccessfully to inflate the rider’s lifejacket to keep the rider’s head above water. Rescuers arriving at the scene could not find the tandem rider (along with attached harness and lifejacket). The rider remains lost in the lake

“The Commission never recovered the rider’s lifejacket and couldn’t conclusively determine why it only partially inflated. But we did identify a risk that lifejackets certified for parachuting have been unsuitable for parachuting conditions.

“Another key issue was that the operator’s water emergency response plan had no regard for the anticipated time that people can survive in cold water; that’s a problem because it increased the likelihood that rescuers would arrive too late to save lives.”

TAIC recommended that the Ministry of Transport work with the Civil Aviation Authority and  New Zealand’s two Parachute Recreation Organisations to improve Civil Aviation Rules to mitigate the risks of unintended water landings, and to specify flotation devices that are suitable for use by parachutists.

TAIC also recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority review its system for reporting parachute accidents and incidents, to inform decisions that make parachuting safer.


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The Commission’s Final Report speaks for itself; it includes a wealth of evidence and explanation. We recommend a thorough reading: www.taic.org.nz/inquiry/ao-2018-001.   

The Commission’s recommendations to the Secretary for Transport focus on:

The Commission’s recommendation to the Director of Civil Aviation focuses on:

  • Improving data for parachute sector safety via a review of the parachute accident and incident reporting system (TAIC Recommendation 11/20)

There was no need for TAIC to make recommendations to the operator. In the time since this accident, the operator improved policy and procedures for safety issues that related to them.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission opens an inquiry when it believes the circumstances of an accident or incident have - or are likely to have - significant implications for transport safety, or when the inquiry may allow the Commission to make findings or recommendations to improve transport safety.