Kiwi Rowan Eves was taking it easy at his vacation home near a popular tourist spot along New Zealand’s Lake Taupo when a boom echoed across the waters. “It sounded like an engine blowing up,” he told local media. He looked up and saw it: a small airplane falling fast. Then its inhabitants began to extricate themselves from the plummeting craft.
“It would’ve been no longer than 15 seconds between the bang and when the skydivers started jumping out of the plane,” he told the New Zealand Herald. Moments later, the plane crashed into the lake and sank to the bottom.
It has been a bad year for aviation. A Malaysian aircraft vanished with its hundreds of passengers. Another one was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Another one was just found at the bottom of the sea. But this crash, unlike the others, miraculously did not end in tragedy. Though investigators haven’t fully determined what happened, Skydive Taupo, a skydiving tourism company that operated the plane, said it was engine failure — and that all of the passengers parachuted out of the plane just in the nick of time and survived.
When the plane was at 4,200 feet in the air, it “encountered an engine problem” and lost power, Skydive Taupo chief executive Roy Clements said in a statement. “All parachutes including the pilot exited the plane and landed safely.” Even the pilot bailed in time, landing, company officials said, in some blackberry bushes.
Witnesses couldn’t believe what they had just seen. One witness said the plane “conked out” near a small village hugging the lake’s southern shores. “It was just a ‘putt’ and stop,” he told the Herald. “Then it cruised for about 100 meters. Then half a dozen parachutists jumped out.”
When the plane was only at about 1,000 feet, Rowan Eves said he saw the pilot jump free of the plane. Then Eves climbed into his boat and headed for the crash site, diving into the water to see if anyone was still trapped inside. When he saw that everyone had somehow escaped the plane within 15 seconds, he took the passengers to shore. “One of them was pretty shaken,” he said. “It was pretty amazing that they could get out; it’s amazing that they’re safe.”
Not to mention it was pretty fortunate the passengers of a plane stricken by debilitating engine failure happened to be carrying parachutes. “There is nothing much you can do about an engine malfunction,” local mayor David Trewavas told the New Zealand Herald. “… Just shows the experience of the operators and how well-equipped they were.”