New Zealand skydivers leap to safety after plane suffers engine failure

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13 skydivers jumped to safety in New Zealand after plane suffers engine failure (WABC)

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 Lake Taupo, authorities said.

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

Soon after the plane took off, something went wrong at an altitude around 2,000 feet.

"The plane just made a big bang and then it stopped," he said.

He said the instructors were already wearing parachutes, but each needed to hastily clip their 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 jumped only after 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," Clements said.

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

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 (half a mile) 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.

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.

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