Paragliding pilot fined over crash

A veteran Queenstown paragliding pilot has been fined for a reckless landing that injured his 4-year-old daughter.

When Daniel Wade Stephens (46) took off from Coronet Peak for a tandem flight with his daughter on February 12, he was supposed to land in a designated zone at FlightPark Queenstown at the foot of the mountain.

However, he decided instead to land in a fenced-off area in front of the facility’s cafe because, in his own words, he ‘‘thought it would be a fun thing to do’’.

He misjudged the landing and he and his daughter hit a wooden fence, smashing a rail.

His daughter received a large bruise on her forehead, a chipped tooth, split lip and showed symptoms of concussion.

After Stephens voluntarily notified the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the incident, an inspection of his equipment showed he did not have warrants of fitness for his canopy nor the pilot and passenger harnesses.

He subsequently admitted two charges of breaching the Civil Aviation Act: operating a paraglider in a manner causing unnecessary danger to a person, and operating an aircraft without a current warrant of fitness.

He appeared in the Queenstown District Court yesterday for sentencing.

Counsel Alice Milne said the defendant was of good character, had no previous convictions and felt ‘‘incredible remorse’’ over his actions.

He had co-operated with the CAA and made an early guilty plea.

CAA prosecutor Anna McConachy said the defendant had chosen to take an ‘‘unnecessary risk’’ while taking a young child paragliding.

Judge Chris Sygrove said Stephens’ offending was aggravated by its premeditation and the risk to his passenger and the cafe’s patrons.

The defendant’s lack of warrants of fitness suggested a ‘‘cavalier attitude’’.

He also lacked a current tandem paragliding rating and was not a member of a bona fide paragliding organisation, the judge said.

‘‘Aviation is an inherently dangerous pursuit,’’ Judge Sygrove said.

‘‘No doubt you’ve had your own demons to deal with from the fact your 4-year-old daughter was injured.’’

Stephens was convicted on both charges and fined $2000 on the unnecessary endangerment charge, and $1350 for operating without a warrant of fitness.

He has been paragliding in the resort for at least the past 13 years, including as a commercial tandem pilot.


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