Skydivers killed during jump in Eloy identified

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

ELOY, Ariz. (AP) -- Two skydivers were killed Tuesday after they collided during a jump over southern Arizona, collapsing their parachutes and sending them plummeting to the ground, authorities said.

Witnesses told investigators that both skydivers had open canopies when they ran into each other about 200 to 300 feet above the ground, said Sgt. Brian Jerome, an Eloy police spokesman. Their canopies collapsed and they fell to the ground around 4:50 p.m., Jerome said in a news release.

Bernd Schmehl, 51, of Germany, was pronounced dead at the scene. Keiron O'Rourke, 40, of the United Kingdom, was taken to Casa Grande Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

A third skydiver was injured, but police said the injury "was not related to or caused by" the collision. The injuries were not believed to be serious, Jerome said.

All three victims were part of a jump that involved 200 men and women. According to others in the group, everyone who participated was considered an experienced jumper.

Jerome said O'Rourke logged 849 jumps, 100 in the last six months. Schmehl logged 1,707 jumps, 80 in the last six months.

The cause of the collision was under investigation.

"It's a reminder of the danger of the sport," says Jerome. "I don't think there's any sport that comes without danger. So the investigators we have out there have done this before, unfortunately, so they know what they're doing."

The collision occurred at Skydive Arizona, a training facility that operates out of the Eloy Municipal Airport, about 60 miles south of Phoenix. Its website says it's the largest drop zone in the world, for skydivers of all skill levels.

Dozens of women gathered at the site Saturday to break the world record for an all-female mass-formation jump.

Nancy Koreen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Parachute Association, said 63 women made up the formation, all of them flying upside down with their heads down. The previous record was a 41-woman formation.

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Statement from Skydive Arizona:

"On December 3, 2013 at approximately 4:45 PM, two highly experienced skydivers collided under their open parachutes at about 200 feet above the ground. Their parachutes collapsed and both skydivers were killed.

"The skydivers were participating in an invitational 200-skydiver record attempt. Names are being withheld pending notification of their families.

"In an unrelated incident, another skydiver in the same group had a hard landing and suffered a back injury.

"There were no problems related to aircraft or equipment. Weather conditions were good and the accidents occurred on the fifth group jump of the day."