A MISSION Beach mother-of-eight was one of three skydivers killed in a freak skydiving accident.
Kerri Pike, 50, the wife of former Cassowary Coast Councillor Alister Pike, was tandem skydiving with a highly experienced instructor with Skydive Mission Beach when the collision occurred Friday afternoon.
The skydive was a 50th birthday present for Mrs Pike from her husband and children. They'd given her the gift at a birthday dinner on Thursday night.
Her 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 nearby house.
Police said there had been three other tandem jumpers on the same flight, but they all landed safely.
Mr Dawson and Mr Turner were close friends, both in their 30s, and highly experienced skydivers who had completed thousands of jumps.
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.
Skydiving is a popular activity for backpackers, as well as locals, at Mission Beach.
Skydive Mission Beach advertises the highest tandem jump in Australia at 15,000ft or 4572m.
Witnesses watched the tragedy unfold midair.
"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."
Staff at Eco Village Mission Beach said skydivers typically landed on a stretch of beach further south.
Mr Barnes said his property was a considerable distance from this site.
"The accident, the crash must have happened up in the air," he said.
A close friend of Mr Dawson has paid tribute to his mate, saying "you leave doing your chosen love in life, now soaring above the clouds forever more".
"Dare to dive, dare to dream. Miss you mate,'' he wrote.
"Will miss this legend like there is no tomorrow.''
Another friend, Ziad Touat, met Mr Dawson while learning to skydive in Bendigo in 2007, said he was the "the typical Aussie mate".
"(Mr Dawson was) the smarter of all of us,'' he said.
Mr Turner had just returned from a trip to Canada where he had been indulging his love of base jumping.
People who had skydived with him in the past paid tribute to his skills and his professionalism.
Queensland Ambulance Service operations supervisor Neil Noble said the skydivers were pronounced dead at the scene.
"We had a report of a skydiver who had been found in the garden at a residence in Mission Beach," he said.
"Paramedics attended to the scene and unfortunately his injuries were so severe he was declared deceased at the scene. Shortly thereafter, we received another report of another two skydivers that had been found close by and unfortunately their injuries were equally fatal and they were also declared deceased at the scene."
A woman who skydived at Mission Beach at the weekend said she was sick to her stomach to think her she and her partner could have died.
"This news has left us shaken, in tears and sick to our stomachs," Darwin woman Danielle Beattie said.
"We are so-so lucky and are thanking our lucky stars that we are safe.
"To think that someone we met or dived with has been killed is just awful."
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.
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