Some towns have cats stuck up trees, but Queenstown yesterday
had a parapenter.
Ben Letham decided yesterday, after 18 months of parapenting
above the resort, to try something a little bit different.
The jump about 9.45am from the Skyline area of Bob's Peak
went well enough, in perfect weather. However, the
21-year-old American private pilot came into difficulties
when practising his new manoeuvre, spiralling into one of the
thousands of lofty pine trees below.
Staff at Kiwi Birdlife Park, where the tree he fell into
grows, called Queenstown police, as did sharp-eyed members of
Experienced Queenstown arborist Abe Laguna was called, as he
was familiar with the pines and had rescued Queenstown-based
American paraglider Cade Palmer (28) from a similar tree in
A helicopter rescue was deemed unwise given Mr Letham's
vulnerability, so Mr Laguna climbed the tree trunk wearing
It took him 10 to 15 minutes to reach Mr Letham, who appeared
calm although suspended in midair more than 40m above the
It was believed the pilot fell about 5m through branches
before he came to a halt.
"He was 3m away from the trunk, so easy to throw rope to with
safety line, and to find out if he knows climbing and ropes,"
Mr Laguna said after the rescue.
"He knew about it so that made it easy."
Queenstown police and St John ambulance officers stood ready
near the foot of the tree.
The base was roped off to the public as Mr Laguna shouted
warnings from above, and debris such as branches and pine
cones thudded to the ground.
Park visitors stopped in their tracks and looked up,
open-mouthed, at the sight.
Mr Letham was secured to a safety rope, then instructed by Mr
Laguna to abseil to the ground. The rescue took less than 30
"It was just unlucky," Mr Letham told the Otago Daily
"It went wrong, trying something new."
Asked if he feared for his life as he fell, he said: "It
happens pretty quick, so you just deal with it."
The parapenter was full of praise for his rescuer.
"He's a good guy, knows what he's doing."
Constable Terry Wood, of Queenstown, was waiting to speak to
him. Charges were not laid as the incident was unintended and
accidents happened with the sport, Const Wood said later.
Mr Letham and park managers came to an arrangement whereby
the grateful pilot will volunteer his time to the visitor
But the job was not over for Mr Laguna. He climbed back up to
retrieve the sail and glider, worth thousands of dollars.