Newsreader's daughter is killed by the sport she loved

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The Independent Online

Moments after jumping into the clear sky 14,000ft above Australia, the British skydiver Clare Barnes kissed her boyfriend in mid-air, sharing the thrill of the sport she loved. It was her 200th jump.

Moments after jumping into the clear sky 14,000ft above Australia, the British skydiver Clare Barnes kissed her boyfriend in mid-air, sharing the thrill of the sport she loved. It was her 200th jump.

Then, within seconds, tragedy struck. Something went wrong with Miss Barnes's parachute as she tried to open it. Fighting to regain control to the last, she plummeted thousands of feet to her death in full view of her eight skydiving companions.

The family and friends of Miss Barnes, 24, who was the daughter of Denis MacShane, the minister for Europe, and the television newsreader Carol Barnes, were last night mourning a woman who lived for her sport and whose extrovert nature had, her parents said, won her more friends in her short life than others collect in decades.

Mr MacShane, the MP for Rotherham, and Ms Barnes, who works as a freelance for ITN, were last night on their way to Australia to make funeral arrangements. They were accompanied by Ms Barnes's son, James, 21.

The couple said in a statement: "Clare was close to both her parents, to her brother, James, and her half-sisters and half-brother, who are united in grief at the loss of a beautiful young woman.

"She died as she lived, at the edge of experience in a sport that gave her immense pleasure. After she jumped with friends from the plane she kissed her boyfriend as they flew together in the blue skies of Australia, where she found happiness: she was looking forward to living there permanently."

The incident took place in an area called Barwon Heads, north-west of Melbourne, at about 4pm local time on Sunday. Miss Barnes died in a paddock near the temporary drop zone being used by SkyDive City, the club that organised the jump, which had been temporarily banned by the Civil Aviation Authority from dropping parachutists within two miles of Barwon Heads Airport.

An investigation will be conducted by the Civil Aviation Safety Association and the Australian SkyDiving Association and a report will be prepared for the coroner. Some reports yesterday suggested that Miss Barnes's main parachute had become entangled with her emergency one.

Dave Hickling, the chief instructor at the British Parachute School at Langar airfield in Nottinghamshire, said that Miss Barnes would probably have attempted to open her parachute at around 4,500ft, about a minute after jumping. He added: "If her main chute did not open properly or began to spiral around and she opened the reserve, they can become entangled. It is something that skydivers recognise can happen. It's quite rare, but unfortunately the consequences are usually fatal."

The group were undertaking a "nine-way formation", a routine manoeuvre in which skydivers attempt to adopt a number of patterns between jumping and opening their chutes. It is not known whether the jump was filmed by one of the other divers.

Miss Barnes had worked in public relations in London, but was attracted by the opportunities for skydiving in Australia, where she had been living for the past eight months.

A family friend, who did not want to be named, said: "Skydiving was Clare's absolute passion, it really was. She loved it more than anyone. She was just a passionate skydiver and it was her life."

Luke McWilliam, another friend and a member of the same club, said: "It's a huge loss; she was much loved by everyone. She was a very positive person, a brilliant person, we are all in shock." The club would be closed for "a number of days" while everyone dealt with the loss, he said. A memorial service would be held.

Mr MacShane, 55, and Ms Barnes, 59, had a relationship in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both went on to marry other people. He has four daughters and one son from a later marriage.

Ms Barnes, who lives in Brighton, was married for 17 years to Nigel Thompson, an ITN cameraman and the father of James. After many years with ITN ­ being voted newscaster of the year in 1994 ­ Ms Barnes went freelance four years ago and now co-owns a media training company. Last year she fronted the ITV News Channel coverage of the Iraq war. David Mannion, editor-in-chief of ITV News, said: "Our hearts go out to Carol and Denis."

Mr MacShane, the Oxford-educated son of a Polish immigrant father and a Scottish mother, was a BBC reporter for eight years before becoming president of the National Union of Journalists. In 1980 he became policy director of the International Metalworkers Federation based in Geneva, where he worked for 12 years. He worked in Poland on behalf of the metalworkers' union, supporting the Solidarity movement, and was held by the Communist regime.

Miss Barnes is the second Briton to die in a skydiving accident in the area this year. In January Pauline Richards, 44, from Somerset, a champion sky-surfer, died after landing heavily at Corowa airport, near Melbourne, after a 13,000ft jump.

In Britain, deaths from sky-diving average between two and five a year; about 250,000 jumps take place annually.