Updated Apr 3, 2014 - 2:44 pm
Woman dies in Arizona skydiving accident, group returns to sky for tribute jump
ELOY, Ariz. -- An attempt to set a world skydiving record by having more than 200 people free-fall from an airplane in formation turned tragic Thursday when one of the jumpers died during the daring effort.
The rest of the group returned to the skies hours later to perform a tribute jump in honor of Diana Paris, 46, from Berlin, Germany. Her husband told police she had completed 1,500 jumps in her skydiving career.
Skydive Arizona blamed the accident on a malfunctioning parachute that was released too low to the ground to allow a reserve parachute to fully open. The female skydiver from Germany was declared dead at the scene.
"It had nothing to do with the size of the group or the aircraft," World Team spokeswoman Gulcin Gilbert said. "It was a malfunction of the parachute."
The accident occurred around 7:30 a.m. during an attempt to break the record for what is called a formation jump.
The group of 222 people from 28 countries was to free-fall from about 18,000 feet, come together in a formation before separating and doing another formation, then pull their parachutes.
Rob Laidlaw, one of the team captains, told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR earlier this week, that "the probability of building, you have to realize, 222 people to try to be in sync with each other and not make any mistakes, it's a pretty big deal."
The skydivers jumped at such a high elevation that they needed oxygen masks in the airplane, and they hurtled through the air at speeds of more than 100 mph.
The group did not complete the formation. World Team organized the event at Skydive Arizona, one of the nation's top skydiving locations.
Skydivers cried and hugged each other and prayed after they learned of the death.
The group went back up a few hours later to execute a missing-man formation to honor their friend.
According to a statement:
"The whole team met after this accident and amid the hugs and tears agreed to create a special jump, a missing man (sector) formation skydive, to honor their fallen friend.
It is alway(s) a difficult decision for the organizers to make after a tragedy, but the team as a whole has decided to keep moving towards the record. However it will no longer be a two point 222-way. It will be a 2 point 221-way. Our dear friend can not and will not be replaced. The group will continue to hold the slot open in the skydiver's honor."
Skydive Arizona in Eloy has been the site of other skydiving deaths in recent months.
Two skydivers, from Germany and the United Kingdom, died in November when their parachutes collapsed during an attempt to set a jump record.