He could have been wearing a silver fern at the Winter Olympics - instead, promising Arrowtown snowboarder Hamish Bagley was being remembered in Sochi by New Zealand Olympians after his life was cut short in a fiery crash on the Lindis Pass on Sunday.
Hamish, 17, on the initial list for the Sochi Olympics, died after the car he was in veered off the road and down a ditch before bursting into flames.
His father, Roy, speaking from Los Angeles Airport where he was awaiting a return flight to Queenstown last night, said he was numb with the news.
Olympic snowboarder Possum Torr said via Twitter from Sochi: "With a heavy heart I hear of a young life taken too soon. Rest in peace Hamish Bagley."
Queenstown skier Adam Barwood said from Sochi last night that he had met Hamish a couple of times and knew him as a talented young snowboarder.
"I'd heard a lot about him. He was a young guy with a lot of talent coming through."
A statement from the New Zealand Olympic team, issued last night, says the team was "shocked and saddened to hear of the loss".
Hamish was a member of the New Zealand team to the inaugural Youth Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck in 2012 and had been working towards qualification for the Sochi Olympic Games as a member of the official long-list.
Olympic team chef de mission Pete Wardell said the team was advised of the news yesterday morning.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Hamish at this sad time. He was a bright and talented young man who made a positive contribution to winter sport in New Zealand. He will be sorely missed."
New Zealand athletes and support staff were to gather in Sochi to acknowledge the snowboarder and the role he played in their close-knit community.
A former Wakatipu High School student, Hamish excelled at snowboarding.
In 2012 he was a member of the New Zealand team competing at the Youth Olympic Winter Games at Innsbruck alongside Olympian Jossi Wells, where he finished 10th in the snowboard halfpipe.
Tributes flowed for the young talent on his Facebook page.
"Rest easy bud can't believe you are gone so soon. One of the nicest people I have ever met, even all the way back at the start of primary school. Never without a smile. Such a great talent you will be missed by all for sure," from Max Macharg.
Libby-Jean Hay said: "Such tragic news, cant believe it. RIP Hamish, you were such a kind kid, I will forever cherish the memories we had at the Youth Olympics".
Devin Parker called Hamish "one of the coolest and nicest kids I've ever met" and said the Arrowtown skatepark would not be the same without him.
'LIKE A MOVIE SCENE'
The first person on the scene of the crash that claimed the life of Bagley said it "was really like a scene out of the movies".
An Alexandra man was driving home over the Lindis Pass towards Central Otago just after 5pm on Sunday when he saw a car coming towards him in the distance. Seconds later, after rounding another bend, he could see no trace of it.
Police said Hamish's Subaru Impreza failed to take a bend and ended up 30 metres below the road and down a steep bank before bursting into flames. Hamish, a snowboarder who had represented New Zealand, and his much-loved family dog were killed.
Sergeant Derek Ealson, of Cromwell, said the young man's family had been informed, but both parents were overseas at the time. They were expected to arrive in Queenstown today, he said.
The man first on the scene pulled over to lend assistance.
"I stopped, ran over and could see some wreckage of the car. I knew that there was something. I just saw the tree move quite substantially.
"Looking at the car, I would be surprised if the person survived the impact.
"If I was 30 seconds later, I probably would have not even known, the only thing that triggered me was the tree moving violently."
As the man tried to figure out how to clamber down the bank, the car burst into flames. "It's something that you would expect to be in a movie. The car catching on fire, I just couldn't believe it."
More cars pulled over to help and some travellers with extinguishers tried to put out the flames.
A passerby managed to get enough signal to call emergency services, he said. The first fire engine arrived about 45 minutes later. "It was . . . in the middle of nowhere, but by the time the fire brigade got there it was really starting to grow. It was dangerous for people to drive through."
- © Fairfax NZ News