Speed gliding fatality seen as warning

DEBBIE JAMIESON
Last updated 05:00 07/09/2013

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Windy weather was probably a contributing factor in the death of speed glider Sean Kerridge, who died at Treble Cone last year, Otago Southland coroner David Crerar has found.

Mr Kerridge, 40, died when his Swing Spitfire 11 crashed during a flight from Pub Corner on the Treble Cone skifield access road in February.

The sport, a mix of paragliding and skydiving using a smaller chute, often involves flying close to cliff faces and speeds of more than 100kmh.

Mr Kerridge, who was also a base jumper, was originally from Dargaville but lived in Wanaka and Australia.

In formal findings released yesterday the coroner found that Mr Kerridge crashed into the ground at high speed.

"It is probable that the weather was a contributing factor to the accident, with the Speedwing entering an area of descending air at a low level giving little opportunity for Sean Kerridge to recover."

Paraglider Bryan Moore, who was the first on the scene after the crash, said he would have given himself considerably more margin of error (extra height) and would not have elected to fly that particular ridge at that time.

Paraglider Mal Haskins told the coroner that on that day Mr Kerridge had only one chance to fly the line he had been practising previously as the wind was coming up and bad weather was forecast for the next five days.

"He was pushing himself to do it. I was, like, totally gobsmacked that he went to do what he did."

A Civil Aviation Authority investigation found Mr Kerridge was operating close to the ground and encountered descending or "sinking" air.

"Due to the low level, there was little available height to counteract the sink, resulting in a high-speed impact with the ground and fatal injuries to the pilot."

Mr Crerar said he hoped others would learn from Mr Kerridge's death.

"It is hoped that the lessons learned from the tragic death of Sean Kerridge are not lost and that other paragliders and Speedwingers will learn that the past-time they have chosen to adopt leaves little room for error and that to operate a Speedwing, in particular, in windy conditions can have catastrophic consequences."

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