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Skydivers fail to break world record following fatal accident in Arizona

Skydivers form a missing man formation in Eloy, Arizona, April 3, 2014. . REUTERS/Henry Wiggers/Handout via Reuters
Skydivers form a missing man formation in Eloy, Arizona, April 3, 2014. . REUTERS/Henry Wiggers/Handout via Reuters

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A team of 221 skydivers failed with their final attempt to break a world record in a daring jump above the southern Arizona desert on Friday, one day after a colleague died in a previous attempt, organizers said.

Skydivers from 28 countries attempted the feat at about 19,500 feet in the air above the town of Eloy before deploying their parachutes, Gulcin Gilbert, spokeswoman for the World Team group organizing the attempt, said in an email.

The team was trying to break the world record for most skydivers changing from one kaleidoscope-like formation to another in a one jump. The record is currently held by 110 skydivers in Florida.

The attempt failed because two skydivers were out of formation, Gilbert said.

"But the spirit right now is still great," Gilbert said. "Everyone gave their best. After all this record was extremely difficult."

Friday marked the fourth and final planned day of attempts at the popular U.S. skydiving facility about 65 miles south of Phoenix.

Judges from Swiss-based Federation Aeronautique Internationale were present to watch the attempt, Gilbert said.

Skydivers had dedicated the effort on Friday to a veteran German skydiver who was killed when her main parachute malfunctioned during a record-breaking attempt the day before. Berlin's Diana Paris, 46, was pronounced dead at the scene after her main parachute was released too low to allow her reserve parachute to open and she hit the ground, authorities said.

An investigation continues into the woman's death

Organizers said it was the first skydiving fatality in the group's 20-year existence and that safety was foremost in their minds in the 18 months spent preparing for the jump.

Pinpoint precision was required for the attempt at the complicated maneuver, which was set into motion with 10 aircraft taking aloft the team of 221 skydivers.

The team had decided to move ahead despite the fatal accident, leaving a slot open in the formations in honor of the deceased skydiver, Gilbert said.

The accident marked the third skydiving death since December in attempts to break a record in the sport.

At the same facility last December, two skydivers were killed after colliding at a height of between 200 and 300 feet and falling to the ground in what authorities ruled an accident.

Briton Keiron O'Rourke, 40, and Bernd Schmehl, 51, of Germany, were killed when a group of 200 skydivers from another organization tried to break the double-formation record.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Lisa Shumaker)

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