Jackson pays tribute to drowned Oscar winner

SAM BOYER
Last updated 10:47 01/01/2013

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Sir Peter Jackson has paid tribute to Oscar winning sound editor Michael Hopkins, who died in a rafting accident in the Tararua Range on Sunday.

Jackson said in a statement that he and producers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Caro Cunningham and Zane Weiner were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Mr Hopkins, who had worked on many of Jackson's films.

"I know I can speak for the many actors, directors, production and post production crew who were lucky enough to work with Mike, in saying that he will be terribly missed," Jackson said.

"Mike was an extraordinarily talented sound designer, editor and supervisor and thoroughly deserving multiple Oscar winner. Under his guidance, New Zealand became recognised as one of the leading hubs of post production sound in the world. Beyond that, Mike was a very genuine, caring and warm hearted guy with a great sense of humour.

"We are all mourning his passing - his family, his friends and colleagues are in our thoughts."

Mr Hopkins was an in-demand sound editor who had worked with Sir Peter Jackson on his films Braindead, The Frighteners, Heavenly Creatures, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. He also worked on Hollywood hits Transformers, Dreamgirls, Kung Fu Panda and Valkyrie.

He and American Ethan Van der Ryn won sound editing Oscars for their work on The Two Towers in 2003 and King Kong in 2006.

River contractor Bruce Slater, who saved Mr Hopkins' wife from the rafting accident, says the group of rafters were extremely unlucky to have been caught in a flash flood.

Mr Hopkins, his wife Nicci and a male friend were out rafting in the Waiohine River in the Tararua Range when they were caught in an eddy as the river rose quickly.

Mrs Hopkins was thrown from the raft as the other two hung on and were pulled under, Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson said. The three rafters were wearing life-jackets, wetsuits and helmets.

If they had launched their dinghy just half an hour earlier, they would have been safe, Mr Slater said. Half an hour later, and they would have seen the river was too high.

Instead they were snared in a 50kmh torrent in the Waiohine Gorge, with crushing 5-foot waves.

Mr Slater, of Greytown, sped to the rescue of Mrs Hopkins in his jet boat when he heard their inflatable raft had flipped but it was too late to save her husband, who had already drowned.

"They were really unlucky.

"If they'd been half an hour earlier, they would have been clear of the gorge."

By the time he and son Andrew reached Mrs Hopkins, she had been in the river for two hours, clinging to a ledge in a narrow part of the gorge that was too dangerous to be reached by police or rescue helicopter. Mr Slater was able to spin his jet boat into a small eddy and nose forward enough for Andrew to pull Mrs Hopkins in.

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Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson, of Wairarapa, said the Slaters were heroes.

"There was a point where we decided it was too dangerous . . . but he [Mr Slater] made a choice and went in and rescued her.

"What he did was pretty bloody heroic."

Mr Slater, who monitors the river every day, said the water level rose rapidly while the party was in the water. "It shot up two to three metres and the flow - which would've been 10 cubic metres - shot up to 300 cubic metres. So that's huge volume.

"The water was probably doing 30 to 50kmh."

He was at home, about 300m from the river, when he got a call from a friend, saying the police needed help with their search. He rejected suggestions he was a hero, saying he was just happy to help.

Contact Sam Boyer
Consumer Affairs reporter
Email: sam.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SamJBoyer

- The Dominion Post

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