06/08/2008 - 22:00

Skydive numbers down after inquest

06/08/2008 - 22:00

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The state's second largest skydiving facility has experienced a 30 per cent drop in skydives since an inquiry into the sport was launched by Coroner Alastair Hope in 2006 - a process that many in the industry feel has done little to improve things.

The state's second largest skydiving facility has experienced a 30 per cent drop in skydives since an inquiry into the sport was launched by Coroner Alastair Hope in 2006 - a process that many in the industry feel has done little to improve things.

Highlighting the industry's plight, WA Skydiving Academy said phone enquiries have also dropped 85 per cent since the inquest examined five deaths involving WA's biggest skydiving facility, Skydive Express, between 2003 and 2006.

The state's skydiving operators say the inquest has taken the sport to the brink, with smaller operators experiencing as much as a 50 per cent reduction in jumps over the past few years.

Mr Hope has recommended changes to skydiving training procedures and found that four of the five deaths at Skydive Express were accidents, but the fifth could have been prevented.

WASA owner Robin O'Neill said he was disappointed in Mr Hope's findings and that the sport in Western Australia had been tarnished.

"It definitely had a huge impact on business - it was almost like the tap got turned off," he said.

"To have something like this happen in quick succession feeds the myths out in the public that my sport is dangerous.

"We have a good safety record and have never had serious injuries or any fatalities since we began operating in 1985, and while there are risks associated with skydiving, if you're astute and keep your eyes open and stay alert there's no reason for anyone to get killed."

Mr O'Neill said the outcome of the inquest, in finding that most of the deaths were accidental, would perpetuate the negative feelings towards the sport.

"This [coronial inquest] result is not what our sport wanted," he said.

Southern Skydivers owner Paul Hogan, who gave evidence at the inquest, said Skydive Express had to take responsibility for its safety record, which he believed was affecting the whole industry.

For instance, Mr Hogan said the number of divers at Southern was down 50 per cent as a result of the inquest.

He was concerned the sport would not recover until there were legally enforceable rules that forced all operators to comply.

In a statement issued in response to WA Business News' request for an interview, Skydive Express owner John Seman defended his company, highlighting a June commendation from the Australian Parachute Federation, which praised Skydive Express "for the impeccable presentation of the drop zone, regulatory compliance, risk management practices and presentation".

"Skydive Express is a professional organisation that takes the safety and care of its customers very seriously and operates to higher safety standards than required," he said in the statement.

"In June 2008, in a random audit by seven officers from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the officers praised the operations and stated 'Skydive Express sets the standard for the rest of Australia to follow'."

Mr Hope recommended the APF review training procedures for first-time jumpers so students with language difficulties use an interpreter and the exam papers test students' knowledge more reliably.

Four of the five divers killed at Skydive Express were foreigners.

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