'Too early' to determine cause of tragic skydive

The tandem skydivers who crashed into Lake Wakatipu where the passenger is presumed to have drowned were the last of nine pairs to leave the plane yesterday.

Earlier stories:

Nzone director Anthony Ritter dismissed claims that a parachute malfunction was the potential cause of the crash landing into the lake saying it was "purely speculative" and it was too early to determine the cause of the fatal accident.

Ritter was addressing media in Queenstown this afternoon as the search continued to recover the body of the passenger, a foreign national in his 20s, who has not been seen since the crash landing about 1.42pm yesterday.

He said the young man was travelling alone, was on holiday and Nzone staff were helping police try to contact the man's next of kin overseas. "We're all devastated with yesterday's events."

Ritter confirmed the tandem master who survived the crash, did so because of a good Samaritan who had been flying his helicopter nearby and witnessed the incident.

"A special note of thanks to the person who rescued our tandem master from the water. As I understand it he was flying overhead in his helicopter. He saw what happened. He managed to land near his home, jump in a boat and race out and save our tandem master's life."

Ritter said the instructor was experienced and had conducted more than 3000 tandem jumps.

"The tandem master was released from hospital last night. Given the nature of the incident, he's in remarkably good spirits. He's doing very well and only has a few minor bruises."

Ritter said Nzone had shut down its operations in Queenstown temporarily and was co-operating with the police and other investigators including the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

He said the company would also undertake it's own internal investigation and staff had been offered counselling.

It was the first fatal incident for Nzone in 27 years he said.

But it is the second accident in 12 months involving Nzone after a tandem jump last January ended in a crash-landing with an instructor and trainee instructor suffering serious injuries.

And the ABC in Australia reported that Nzone's parent company Experience Co, which runs Skydive Mission Beach in Far North Queensland, was involved in a fatal crash last year.

In that incident three months ago two instructors, Peter Dawson and Toby Turner, and a client, mother-of-eight Kerri Pike, died in what is believed to have been a mid-air collision.

At least 10 Taic investigators are working to piece together the cause of the skydiving crash landing.

Taic investigator in charge Barry Stevenson told media earlier he was one of two investigators on the ground and another eight were trying to determine to cause.

Stephenson, said he and another investigator would spend the next few days interviewing witnesses and NZONE staff, as well as gathering and securing physical evidence.

It was "far too early" to comment on the potential cause of the incident.

They had yet to speak to the jump master.

New Zealand Parachute Industry Association chief executive Jenn Lowe said skydiving in New Zealand had an excellent safety record.

"We are among the most heavily regulated skydiving environments in the world, ensuring all skydiving operations have robust safety processes and procedures which are audited and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority."

Lowe said the association would work closely with authorities and Nzone management to find out what happened, why and what can be done to prevent it happening again.

"In the meantime, our top priority is to support the people directly involved and the wider skydiving community, all of whom are, understandably, deeply distraught by this incident."

Stevenson said the 2012 Carterton hot air balloon crash that killed all 11 passengers and pilot when it collided with power lines and caught fire, said safety standards were recently newly improved following that devastating event.

Meanwhile Ritter, who conveyed his "deepest sympathies" to the dead man's family and friends, said skydiving was a risky activity and the company did everything it could to mitigate those risks.

He said a Go Pro camera that had been strapped to the tandem master's wrist was salvaged and given to police. He had not seen the footage.

On questioning, Ritter said all tandem skydivers wore a life jacket that needed to be inflated for use but it was not yet known if the passenger was able to inflate his before landing in the lake.

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