By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Thirteen skydivers in Colorado parachuted to safety from just 2,000 feet (609 meters) above the ground after jumping from a burning airplane over the weekend, authorities and the skydiving company said on Monday.
The pilot of a twin-engine Beechcraft B90, operated by Out of the Blue Skydiving, declared an emergency shortly after taking off on Sunday from the Colorado Springs East Airport, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
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The pilot reported that one of the plane's engines was on fire and made a safe emergency landing after all of the skydivers jumped from the burning aircraft, the sheriff’s office said.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency is investigating the mishap.
The parachutists were picked up by personnel from the skydiving company and returned to the airport, the sheriff’s office said, adding that no injuries were reported.
In a Facebook posting, officials with Out of the Blue said the aircraft collided with at least one bird, igniting one of the plane's engines.
"While the bird(s) that our plane struck and ingested in flight didn't fare well, all 13 skydivers on that load and our pilot are safe and sound," the company said.
Kendra Boysen, co-owner of Out of the Blue, said in a telephone interview that typically the optimum altitude for skydivers to parachute out of a plane is about 12,000 feet (3,658 meters).
"They were very low," she said, adding that feathers from the birds were found embedded in the plane's engine.
The Colorado incident occurred a day after two skydivers in California plunged to their deaths near the city of Lodi when their tandem parachute failed to deploy.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; editing by Dan Whitcomb, G Crosse)