13 skydivers jump safely when plane catches fire

Colorado Springs, Colo. — A skydiving plane caught fire shortly after taking off from a small Colorado airport, and the 13 trained jumpers aboard parachuted to safety before it made an emergency landing, authorities said.

Officials with Out of the Blue Skydiving said they believe the plane struck a bird after leaving Colorado Springs East Airport on Sunday afternoon. Passenger Trent Reese said they heard a pop on board.

“The pilot took a few seconds to assess the situation and he said, ‘Everybody out,’ ” Reese told Colorado Springs TV station KRDO.

The skydivers jumped from the plane and were picked up by company workers, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office said. No injuries were reported, and the plane landed safety back at the airport. The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

Rusty Wardlow, a videographer with Out of the Blue Skydiving, said some skydivers had to use their reserve parachutes because they were jumping too close to the ground. The skydivers normally parachute at 12,000 feet but they jumped Sunday from under 3,000 feet.

“I wouldn’t say it was a routine exit, but everyone did what they were supposed to do,” he told TV station KOAA. “This is just a normal part of skydiving — there is no such thing as a perfectly good airplane, and we were all glad we were wearing parachutes.”

Blue Skydiving co-owner John Mahan said once everyone landed, it took a little while to track everyone down because they were scattered in the area.

“It’s an unfortunate event,” Mahan told KRDO-TV. “Everyone is safe. We are very happy everyone is accounted for.”

It came the same weekend two tandem skydivers plummeted to their deaths in California after their parachute failed to open.