MP warned of skydiving tragedy

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The Independent Online

A tragedy at the Australian skydiving club used by Clare Barnes - daughter of the former newsreader Carol Barnes and the minister for Europe, Denis MacShane - was predicted in state parliament 10 days before she plunged to her death.

A tragedy at the Australian skydiving club used by Clare Barnes - daughter of the former newsreader Carol Barnes and the minister for Europe, Denis MacShane - was predicted in state parliament 10 days before she plunged to her death.

The safety record of the Skydive City club was challenged by Michael Crutchfield, the MP for South Barwon in Victoria, who told the state's legislative assembly on 4 March that the club's members had been allowed to skydive through clouds, high tension power lines and near aircraft at the local airport. "In short, somebody is going to be killed," Mr Crutchfield said.

The club's owner, Luke McWilliam, told The Independent yesterday that the complaints were unfounded and resulted from a dispute with other users of Barwon Heads airport, north-west of Melbourne, who wanted to block his plans to expand the business. But Mr McWilliam revealed that one of Clare's friends had a scare when the same parachute malfunctioned during a jump two weeks earlier. He admitted that the kit should have been examined after the incident.

Complaints about the club have prompted a 30-month investigation by Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority which must decide by the end of this month whether to seek a prosecution of the firm over alleged breaches of safety. In the meantime, the authority has banned it from dropping parachutists within three miles of the airport.

Ms Barnes, 24, fell to her death on Sunday after her parachute appeared to malfunction. Sources close to the investigation suggested that incompatibility between French and American parts of her parachute system may have contributed to her death.

Ms Barnes's friend borrowed the kit for a dive at another of Mr McWilliam's clubs in Victoria and experienced a "bag lock malfunction" - in which the parachute lines deploy but the parachute remains trapped in its bag. A back-up "release" system worked, preventing a tragedy.

Carol Barnes and Mr MacShane have arrived in Australia to make preparations to return their daughter's body to Britain.

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