Former Chanel student, mum of 8, dies in skydive tragedy
A FORMER Gladstone woman was one of three people killed in a tragic skydiving accident yesterday.
Kerri Pike (nee Whelan) was tandem skydiving with highly experienced Skydive Mission Beach instructors on Friday afternoon when a freak, mid-air collision led to their deaths.
An investigation is underway but The Observer understands the solo parachutist's shute failed to open and the instructor Mrs Pike was flying in tandem with was trying to help him when their parachutes became tangled.
Mrs Pike's body, and the bodies of two experienced instructors, Peter Dawson and Toby Turner, were found on a banana farm and in the garden of a house near Mission Beach.
Mrs Pike was the oldest of nine siblings and went to school at Chanel College in Gladstone where she still has family.
She is the daughter of Eileen Whelan and Brian Whelan (now deceased) who founded the Gladstone Brothers Rugby League Club.
The mother of eight and her family had celebrated her 54th birthday on Thursday night when she was given the ill-fated tandem skydiving jump as a gift.
"Just last night she was in here with her whole family, so happy and alive," said a Mission Beach restaurant owner who oversaw the family celebration.
"It's awful to think today she and the two boys are gone.
The Observer understands that one of the two other victims was a close friend of Mrs Pike's.
Police confirmed there had been three other tandem jumpers on the same flight as Mrs Pike, however, each of them had landed on the ground safely.
The incident - believed to be one of the state's worst skydiving accidents - has shattered the far north Queensland community, with eyewitnesses telling of the horror and helplessness of watching the fall unfold mid-air.
"You could see one chute was tangled and it wasn't opening," one male witness, who did not wish to be named, said.
"I was just watching him in freefall until he went behind the trees, and that was the last I saw."
The witness said it appeared the skydiver did not activate a back-up parachute after the first one failed.
Lorraine Thompson was fishing at Clump Point and said she knew something was wrong.
"I had a bad feeling because I could see a silver object falling between two skydivers which is unusual," she said.
"Then I saw both parachutes didn't open, they were just crumpled up and flapping as the people fell."
She said the incident was terrible.
"I watched them until they dropped behind the trees,'' she said.
The three skydivers were found near the back of Ken Barnes' property.
"It's all happened on my property or partly on my property," he said. "I was in having a shower … then I just heard the sirens coming in.
"All of a sudden, there's a dozen or 20 police here.
"I don't know how they landed, all I know is we've got a couple of bodies at the back of our house, under the trees in body bags. The police are all around."
A spokesman for Skydive Australia said the company extended its "deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences" to those involved as well as their families and the skydiving community.
Skydiving has been suspended while authorities investigate.
Senior police said video evidence will be crucial to establishing what went wrong.
"We believe there may be footage from cameras on the ground or even from the aircraft they jumped out of," Cassowary Coast police Insp Steve Kersley said.
"This may help give us some idea of what happened.''
The two sites where the skydivers fell were both declared crime scenes by police, and it is understood the coroner travelled to the scenes Friday night.
Insp Kersley said there had been three other tandem jumpers on the same flight, but they all landed safely.
It is understood the Australian Parachute Federation, which is a partner organisation of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, will lead the investigation into the incident.
- The Courier Mail