A plane carrying skydivers suddenly caught fire just after taking off from Colorado Springs East Airport on Sunday, located round 25 miles east of Colorado Springs near Ellicott.
There were 14 people onboard, including one pilot two tandem jumpers and 11 skydivers, including two first-timers. According to Out of the Blue Skydiving co-owner John Mahan, a bird might have struck one of the plane’s propellers, causing the fire. The plane was able to return to the airport and land safely.
Mahan said he was one of the two tandem jumpers who were there to take a father celebrating his 60th birthday and his son on their first skydiving experience.
The impact, which hit the left propeller, happened at around 2,600 feet up. When the engine caught fire, the pilot shut it down and ordered an emergency evacuation, according to Mahan.
The 9 solo divers were able to exit the plane in 30 seconds, and the tandem jumpers did some extra checks on the passenger rigging for safety before letting them jump. Mahan says he was with the father and they were the last out of the plane. He was able to see the plane head back to the airport and reach the runway, but could not see the actual landing.
All 11 jumpers landed safely, but in an area outside of their normal landing zone, so they had to figure out which roads to take in order for crews to find them and pick them up.
Mahan says they usually climb up to 12,000 feet before jumping, but the engine caught fire only three minutes into the flight, necessitating the early jump. The industry standard for deploying a parachute is not lower than 2,500 feet so they were cutting it close when they jumped at 2,600 feet.
No injuries were reported, and the passengers just expressed relief at their safety.