A thrill ride over one of New Zealand's most idyllic settings turned into a plunge towards Lake Taupo when a skydiving plane carrying 13 people lost power and crashed shortly after take-off yesterday.
The pilot, six instructors and six tourists were forced to jump from Skydive Taupo's bright-pink Pacific Aerospace 750XL plane and make emergency landings on the lake shore just after midday.
One of the instructors was Joe Dyson, 29. His parents revealed last night that this was not his first close call - he had also experienced a parachute malfunction among his past skydives, which numbered more than 3000.
"We got a call from Joe before it got into the media so we knew he was okay and safe," said his father, Grant Dyson. "He was okay and he's taking it in his stride."
Mr Dyson said it was a relief to know everyone had got out safely.
"Having been trained in these things and having had a 'chute malfunction earlier in his career, they did all the right things.
"He's pretty competent in the outdoors so I'm not at all surprised he got out of there safe."
Joe Dyson, the five other instructors and the tourists were unhurt.
The pilot, who started working for Skydive Taupo only a few days ago, was scratched as he landed in blackberry bushes near the crash site just south of the Waitahanui township on the eastern side of the lake.
Skydive Taupo director Roy Clements said the jumpers were part of a visiting tour group.
They were meant to leave Taupo yesterday, but some were considering re-taking the jump today - free.
Parachutes were usually opened at 5000ft, but as the plane plummeted towards the lake, the group had no choice but to jump from less than 2000ft.
"Exiting a plane at low altitude to get out and activate parachutes and have them open normally and land safely is amazing from the low altitude," said Mr Clements.
Two jumps were planned yesterday at 12,000ft and 15,000ft - but the plane's engine cut out when it reached 2000ft.
"It wasn't long after take-off. There is no doubt about it, the engine stopped, it's as simple as that. When an engine goes out there's not much you can do about it," Mr Clements said
"The pilot told everyone to bail out and that's what happened. They kicked into their emergency practice, opened their parachutes and landed on the ground. They all reacted extremely well during the emergency situation and I think it's because it was their first skydive so whatever happens is normal.
"The instructors said people were just absolutely brilliant and did exactly what they needed to do ... and the customers said the instructors seemed totally calm about the situation as well."
Mr Clements refused to say how long the pilot had been flying for, but said he had "quite some experience" on the job.
He was "proud" of the way his staff had handled the situation.
"Obviously they're quite shaken by the event ... [but] they all said they want to get back up in a plane."
Witnesses described the crash to the Herald.
Sue Graham said: "My husband said, 'There's six parachutists coming down at the end of the lake. They're going to land in the water. What's going on?"
The skydivers in fact landed on the shore.
Another witness said the plane "conked out" off the village of Waitahanui, before going into Rotongaio Bay.
"It was just 'putt' and stop. Then it cruised for about 100 metres. Then half a dozen parachutists jumped out."
The crashed craft, the company's only plane, now lies 3.5m under the surface of New Zealand's biggest lake.
The company has owned the plane for four years and Mr Clements said it was a "mystery" why the engine failed.
"All of the maintenance on the aircraft is done by an approved company and all done according to Civil Aviation Authority rules.
"We're subject to regular auditing," Mr Clements said.
Three Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigators interviewed the pilot yesterday.
They collected the aircraft's records, conducted a preliminary interview with the operating company, and co-ordinated a wreckage survey.
Police divers will today photograph the wreckage, lying on the lake bed.
"The aircraft appears to have broken into several large pieces on impact with the lake," said TAIC spokesman Peter Northcote.
"Later in the day it will be lifted by helicopter from the lake bed before being transported to the commission's Wellington technical facility for further examination." The inquiry could take up to 18 months.
Mr Clements confirmed that staff were being interviewed and the pilot drug- and alcohol-tested - as was standard procedure for a TAIC investigation.
Instructors approached by the Herald yesterday refused to comment.
Marley Nolan-Duncan, who wasn't on the doomed plane, later praised his colleagues on Facebook. "The boys in the plane handled it like pros," he said.
Taupo Mayor David Trewavas was hopeful there would be no lasting downturn in local tourism as a result of the publicity around the crash.
Safety of industry in spotlight
The safety of the adventure tourism industry has again come under the microscope after yesterday's crash involving a skydiving plane.
New rules were brought in to lift standards in the sector after the 2010 Fox Glacier plane crash that killed nine people, including four tourists.
Those measures included an aviation law which requires all adventure aviation operators to be certified with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Duty Minister Todd McClay last night said New Zealanders and international tourists "must be able to trust that adventure tourism operations have good safety systems and practices in place".
The Government would look at the outcome of the investigation into yesterday's crash and "consider any recommendations made then".
"My thoughts are with those who were involved in the incident that occurred in Taupo," Mr McClay said.
"We are committed to ensuring the safety of the adventure tourism sector.
"That is why we have introduced new adventure activity regulations for the wider adventure tourism sector, including Civil Aviation Rule Part 115 in November 2011, which significantly raised safety standards for tourism operators in the aviation space, such as skydiving operators."
The CAA last night confirmed that Skydive Taupo was certified with the regulatory body.
Part of the certification process requires all pilots employed by adventure operators to have the relevant qualifications, such as a commercial pilot's licence and current medical certificates, a spokesman said.
The Part 115 rule came into effect on November 10, 2011, in a bid to enforce stricter rules on the industry after the 2010 crash at Fox Glacier.
It applies to hot-air ballooning, gliding, tandem hang-glider and paraglider operations, tandem parachute descent and parachute-drop aircraft operations.
Adventure aviation companies must apply to the CAA for an operator certificate and go through an investigation process before they can be certified.
Since the new law was put in place, there has been one death.
Italian national Antonino Arillotta, 38, who worked for Sky Dive Lake Wanaka, died when his parachute failed to open during a jump in November 2012.