Speed flyer crashed in difficult conditions
Inquest witnesses yesterday questioned the decision-making of an extreme sport enthusiast who died speed flying near Treble Cone.
Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar held an inquest for Sean Kerridge, 40, who died when his Swing Spitfire 11 crashed during a flight from Pub Corner on the Treble Cone skifield access road in February last year.
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.
Paraglider Bryan Moore landed near the crashed speed wing about 15 minutes after a radio call about the accident and was the first on the scene.
"Sean was motionless, partially covered by his wing. I tried to ascertain vital signs, but had difficulties.
"I felt it was safe to fly in the conditions, but that considerable care needed to be taken, because of the cross winds and potential for rapid increase in wind speed.
"This was a highly emotional event for us and we were all pretty freaked out by it."
Mr Moore said Mr Kerridge's flight path put him in an area of greater than normal sink.
"You're in very close proximity to terrain, so a small amount of turbulence can have a very great effect.
"At the time, it was not unreasonable to fly. For speed wing, ideal conditions would be completely still. The whole rationale of the sport is to whizz along close to the ground. I think it was a judgment decision that was poor."
Mr Moore said if he was flying a speed wing, he would have given himself considerably more margin of error and would not have chosen to fly that particular flight, as it involved flying downwind of a large ridge.
Wanaka-based mountain guide and speed flyer Malcolm Haskins, who was at the scene, said flying close to terrain was generally not done in thermic or windy conditions.
"On this particular day, and given the conditions, I would not have personally chosen to fly that particular line or as close to terrain as Sean was doing."
Speed flying was just as dangerous as base jumping, but safe flying was possible by keeping away from terrain.
The crash was nothing to do with the wing, he said.
In his opinion, Mr Kerridge, with whom he had flown intermittently for two years, misread the conditions.
Paragliders and others in the area tried to resuscitate the adventurer before medics arrived, but he was declared dead at the scene.
CAA safety investigator Justin Vincent said the pilot probably encountered an area of low-level descending air and was unable to recover, hitting the ground.
He read extracts from his accident report and said the wing was operated outside the manufacturer's recommendations, which stipulated it was suitable for "speed riding" - launching while on skis - and not suitable for a "foot launch".
Mr Haskins said most speed flying involved foot launching.
Mr Crerar adjourned and reserved his findings.
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