Otago farmer sprang to action to rescue skydiver

Search and rescue operation taking place on Lake Wakatipu. Photo: James Allan
Search and rescue operation taking place on Lake Wakatipu. Photo: James Allan

Central Otago helicopter pilot James Ford was busy spraying on Cecil Peak Station near Queenstown when he heard a distress call over his radio about a tandem skydive crash.

It set off a chain of events involving two of his colleagues on land that resulted in the miraculous water rescue of a dazed skydive instructor who had just plunged into the icy waters of Lake Wakatipu.

"It's just a case of everything falling into place - bloomin' lucky to be honest, bloomin' lucky," station manager Philip Rive told the Herald tonight.

"It was a team effort."

The instructor's passenger, a tourist in his 20s who was travelling in New Zealand alone, is missing presumed drowned. It emerged today that he and the instructor were the last of nine pairs to jump from the ill-fated NZONE skydive plane about on Tuesday afternoon.

Rive said he was working on his Central Otago station bordering Lake Wakatipu that day when he received Ford's call around 1.40pm.

Ford was flying his helicopter on the eastern side of the farm when he learned of the accident and quickly called Rive who decided to lend a hand.

Rive predicted he was 30 minutes' running distance from his boat on the lake's shore so Ford flew him down to his boat where Rive's wife Kate was getting the vessel ready.

Rive said he and his wife quickly sped to the location where a skydiving plane was circling near Jack's Point and found the tandem master in the water.

"Kate manoeuvred the boat right beside him and we pulled him on board," Rive told the Herald.

Laying the man down on the engine cover, they continued to search the area for the missing man with the assistance of the helicopter pilot above.

"I don't know how long we were looking, but the Queenstown Water Taxi has come over and we immediately offloaded the fella we had on board," Rive said.

"Time was and is of the essence I suppose."

He said the tandem master was quiet and distressed after being pulled out of the cold waters of Lake Wakatipu.

Rive added that the whole rescue operation would not have been possible without Ford notifying him of the accident and his wife lending a hand.

While he was pleased their efforts had helped save the instructor's life, Rive could not help but feel sympathy for the family of the passenger who a fleet of rescue boats and aircraft were unable to find.

He was unsure how long they spent looking for the missing skydiver, but thought if he was in the area they would have found him.

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