Paraponter's canopy collapsed, tangling him in its cords as he plunged to his death: CAA

A screengrab from a video of Letham in the moments before a fatal crash in Queenstown.
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A screengrab from a video of Letham in the moments before a fatal crash in Queenstown.

It appears a glider's parachute collapsed and tangled him in its cords moments before he plummeted to his death in Queenstown, the Civil Aviation Authority says.

Horrified witnesses watched as the paraponter "folded in half...and fell" on to the roof of a school on Saturday morning - including the dead pilot's flying companion.

Paraponting involves a person gliding with a parachute after running and jumping from a high point.

Letham crashed on Robins Road in Queenstown.
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Letham crashed on Robins Road in Queenstown.

Were you there? Do you know more? Send your information, photos and videos to newstips@stuff.co.nz

Police confirmed a person had died after crashing on Robins Rd at 10.10am.

The glider was understood to be a recreational pilot, and not a client or staff member of a local extreme sports company.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mike Richards said two investigators were being sent from Wellington to the scene of the accident and they would arrive Sunday.

"There are numerous eye-witnesses including a companion who was undertaking the same activity. Initial reports indicate the canopy collapsed and the pilot (glider) was tangled up with some cords.

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"He lost control and fell through trees and impacted the roof on a prefabricated school building."

The authority investigators will spend Sunday interviewing witnesses and gathering information, he said.

Paraponters and paragliders often circle over the heavily forested Bob's Peak. The rationale for flying over the reserve is a crash will be cushioned by trees.

Gliders often land in the rugby grounds or a nearby playing field beside Queenstown Primary School.

Eyewitness Mike Dawson said he was unable to see where the paraponter crashed.

"I think he dropped over near where the rugby field is coming off the gondola.

"The flips started off and he just folded up.

"I don't know if he would have made it. Sirens went off about 10 or 15 minutes later."

Witness Mindy Hill said the crash was "a terrible thing to watch".

"He began flipping over and over again, seemingly out of control. Then his parachute just folded and he plummeted to the ground.

"We couldn't see the impact, but all of us on the street were gasping in disbelief."

It's the second flying sport death this week.

Decorated army soldier and paraglider James Peter Maaka, 25, died when he crashed into a road barrier in the Port Hills in Christchurch on Tuesday.

Maaka's friend and fellow paraglider, who had not yet taken off from the hill, watched in horror as it happened.

 - Stuff

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