The British skydiver Clare Barnes died when her parachute failed because it was not packed properly, an interim report into the accident claimed today. The Australian Parachute Federation (APF), which has been investigating the incident, blamed poor gear maintenance and incorrect packing of the parachutes for the 24-year-old’s death.
Miss Barnes, the daughter of newsreader Carol Barnes and Foreign Office minister Denis MacShane, was killed when attempting her 200th jump with her boyfriend and seven other members of a skydiving club near Melbourne on Sunday.
Graeme Windsor, the APF’s national safety and operations manager, said the chain of events that led to her death started with the incorrect packing of the pilot chute, which is used to drag the main parachute from its pack. He told PA News: "Because the pilot chute was not packed properly it did not produce enough drag."
The report said: "When Clare activated her main parachute release at the correct altitude, she experienced a high-speed malfunction. It appears that Clare then followed correct emergency procedures by pulling the main parachute release system, followed by the reserve ripcord. Unfortunately, the main parachute did not release as it should have, and the reserve parachute became entangled with it, preventing either parachute from opening correctly."
Miss Barnes had taken part in a nine-way formation with the other jumpers but after she broke off, her parachutes failed and she fell.
The report went on to list several technical factors which contributed to her death in Barwon Heads, north west of Melbourne.
"The pilot chute that drags the main parachute from its pack had not been packed correctly, and was unable to develop fully," it said. The federation also blamed the failure on the fact that parts of the kit Miss Barnes was using was not compatible with the rest of her equipment. "The main parachute could not escape from its deployment bag because some suspension line stowage bands were too large to allow the bag to open under the reduced pilot chute drag conditions," the report said. Mr Windsor explained: "One of the rubber bands was too big so the bag would not open and let the parachute out."
The report said the main parachute release mechanism did not work because it contained "non-standard fittings". Mr Windsor said the release mechanism "was not the standard one for the harness she had on".
He said the major factors in the tragedy were "poor gear maintenance and packing". Miss Barnes was an experienced skydiver and a licensed parachute packer. "There is no indication at this stage that she did not pack the gear herself," Mr Windsor said.
The APF said all factors contributing to the accident had been illustrated in the past. "The combination of all these factors at the one time has led to a tragic loss of one of our experienced members," the organisation said.
Renewed advice stressing sound maintenance of equipment will be given out as a result of the accident, the APF said.
A final report will wait for the findings of the coroner’s inquest.
Yesterday, Miss Barnes’s parents arrived in Australia to make preparations for the funeral, which was expected to take place in Melbourne on Friday morning local time.