Staff blamed by grieving parents

By Joanne Carroll

This image of Annika Kirsten was in her camera. Photo / Supplied
This image of Annika Kirsten was in her camera. Photo / Supplied

Parents of a German tourist who died in a plane crash at Fox Glacier are too traumatised to make the journey to New Zealand for the Coroner's inquest this week.

Susanne Kirsten and Werner Schmidt-Kirsten's daughter Annika was one of the nine people on board who were all killed in the air tragedy in September 2010. Their deaths will be investigated by Coroner David Crerar starting tomorrow in Greymouth.

Susanne said the couple could not travel because they were suffering from post-traumatic stress after "the worst catastrophe in our life".

"Together with our daughter we lost our future, our sense of life and our hope," she said.

She had read with distress the Transport Accident Investigation Commission's final report into the skydive plane crash in May which concluded the plane had been overloaded.

The Kirstens believed the Civil Aviation Authority failed to fulfil its supervising duty and they hoped this week's inquest would provide some answers as well as promote changes to safety regulations.

"The staff of Skydive, especially the pilot, acted extremely negligently in many ways," Susanne said. "In the name of our daughter we ask the responsible people who are still alive to stand up to their responsibility and to tell the truth about their negligence."

The couple had received a last email from Annika in which she described the beauty of the New Zealand landscape.

Their only child was "very happy, active and adventurous" but also understanding and very empathetic.

She had taken some time out after difficult university exams to travel to New Zealand.

"We suggested her recovering in New Zealand, having the opinion that there was no reason to be worried about her, since we thought of New Zealand as a safe country to travel to," she said.

Annika enjoyed taking photos and she had ambitions to publish travel reports in geographical magazines and books.

The New Zealand Police sent the Kirstens a memory card retrieved from Annika's camera found in the burned-out wreck.

The very last picture showed Annika in a skydiving suit right before her flight into death.

New Zealanders killed in the Fox Glacier crash were pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, Skydive New Zealand director Rod Miller, 55, Australian-born Motueka man Adam Bennett, 47; New Plymouth man Michael Suter, 32; and Christopher McDonald, 62, from Mapua.

Miller's widow Robyn Jacobs said she would meet other victims' families today. "We are all here to find out what happened and we would like to know as much as anybody."

The other tourists who died were Irishman Patrick Byrne, 26, and Australian man Glen Bourke, 18.

- Herald on Sunday

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