‘I thought I was dead’: skydiver

A first-time skydiver who lost two friends when their plane hit a tree and crashed to the ground near Ipswich two years ago has told of how she prayed to God in the moments before impact. Gold Coast woman Amanda Best suffered a broken neck, shoulder, ribcage and arms when the Cessna 206 dropped from the sky moments after taking off from a Willowbank airstrip on January 2, 2006. The crash, which killed five people including Ms Best’s friends, Barbara McLelland, 40, and Sessane Williams, 49, is believed to have been the result of partial engine failure. The exact cause will be determined by an inquest, currently under way in Brisbane, which is also expected to examine the safety of the flight by operator Brisbane Skydiving Centre, and the experience of 22 year-old pilot Anthony Winter, who was among those who perished. Ms Best today recalled her terror and "the sounds of bones breaking" as she and her friends, along with three Brisbane Skydiving Centre instructors, Brian Scofell, 57, Colin Hicklin, 41, and Nigel O’Gorman, 34, were tossed around the plane’s cabin as it flipped and plunged into a farmer’s dam. The right wing had been ripped off after clipping a 23 metre-tall tree. Mr Scofell was the only other survivor. "It just didn’t have the power in it to get any higher," Ms Best said of the Cessna seconds after it left the ground. "The engine started to cut out. My girlfriend and I began to pray. "I remember thinking ‘This is going to hurt’ and then we hit the water. "I thought I was dead." The Coroner’s Court heard Ms McLelland had organised the 14,000-feet tandem skydive to celebrate her 40th birthday. Ms Best said she had agreed to take part but had "not been particularly keen", and became even more concerned with the level of training and safety equipment provided by the company on the day of the jump. She said her requests for a helmet had been "fobbed off" and claimed she was told it didn’t matter that her jumpsuit was torn. She also said paperwork, effectively waiving the company’s responsibility for any accidents or injuries, was not properly explained or instructions given on what to do in the event of an emergency. "You knew that we were being rushed through the process," she told State Coroner Michael Barnes. "I didn’t know what I was about to sign. "It wasn’t worth the paper it was written on." The court heard the Cessna made a "putting" sound soon after takeoff, prompting Mr Scofell to shout instructions to Mr Winter in the cockpit, including "don’t stall it, keep it up, give it some throttle". Ms Best said she then looked out of the window and saw what she thought at the time was a power pole. It was, in fact, the tree. After the collision, the aircraft crashed to the ground with none of the parachutists restrained inside. Ms Best managed to escape the submerged wreckage and swim to the dam’s edge as her tandem partner, Mr Hicklin, floated dead in the water nearby. Despite her horrific injuries, she walked several hundred metres to get help. "I asked them to cut my clothes off me because the (plane’s) petrol was burning me," she said. "I just know that someone was looking out for me." Before concluding her evidence, she asked Mr Barnes to consider a letter allegedly penned by Mr Hicklin to his family one month before the crash in which he highlighted his own safety concerns with Brisbane Skydiving Centre’s operations. "They’re very poorly equipped here with training," Ms Best quoted from the document. The inquest continues.

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