Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Wingsuit flyer driven by passion

Kiwi extreme sport pioneer killed in jump had just marked 3rd wedding anniversary.

Dan Vicary had completed more than 450 wingsuit flights, 750 base jumps and 6000 skydives.
Dan Vicary had completed more than 450 wingsuit flights, 750 base jumps and 6000 skydives.

The grieving mum of a New Zealand wingsuit pilot killed in an accident in Switzerland said her son "died doing what he loved".

Invercargill man Dan Vicary, 33, and two other wingsuit pilots jumped over the Lutschental valley in Bern, 125km southwest of Zurich, on Saturday afternoon. They intended to land by parachute in the valley but crashed into a field near the town of Sengg.

Mr Vicary and 34-year-old Ludovic Woerth, from France, died soon after impact and before rescuers reached the scene. The third man was airlifted to hospital with critical injuries.

Police in Switzerland said it was not clear why the men crashed.

Mr Vicary's mother, Diane Peterson of Christchurch, said the family was "proud of our boy".

He grew up in Invercargill and went from climbing trees, to BMX and motocross racing, to completing more than 6000 sky dives, 750 basejumps and 450 wingsuit flights.

"He wasn't frivolous or careless, he was planned and calculated ... something went dreadfully wrong on Saturday."

The family had an understanding of the cause of the accident, she said.

"Accidents happen and it was an accident," she said.

Following his death, her first reaction was to go to Switzerland, but the family was planning to hold a memorial service for him in Invercargill on Saturday.


Dan Vicary.

Mrs Peterson planned to fly to Switzerland to spend time with Dan's wife, Lisa Hutchins, and to bring his ashes back to New Zealand where they would be scattered in "the mountains and the sea".

Mr Vicary returned recently to New Zealand to film a current affairs show.

The couple, who own a base jumping equipment store, spent time in Wanaka and Queenstown and Mr Vicary filmed a number of jumps. They had planned to return in November.

"New Zealand was incredible - as always I was blown away by beautiful, untouched scenery out there in the Southern Alps," Mr Vicary wrote on his Facebook page.

Mrs Peterson said "we had an amazing visit", with a condition of his return visit was so he could spend time with his mother in Christchurch.

"We had a lovely dinner together and he shared his future dreams and hopes and he did not ever want to be a statistic.

"He said 'I want to fly safe, I always want to fly'."

Mr Vicary saved dozens of people after a tsunami while he was working as a dive instructor in Sri Lanka in 2004.

After the tsunami struck, he took a rescue line and hauled 30 floundering people to safety.

Dan Vicary: Kiwi wingsuit diver

"Either you help or you run, pretty much," he said.

Following his deeds with the tsunami, he told his mother he wanted to be a skydiver.

"As a mum I used to say 'why isn't my son an accountant' ... and I dreaded that call. But I knew that he was careful and he was living his life, and he died doing what he loved," Mrs Peterson said.

Mr Vicary had been living with his wife in Lauterbrunnen, close to where he died.

The couple celebrated their third anniversary on March 17, and Mr Vicary described her as "the most amazing woman I know".

Ms Hutchins was not ready to speak about the tragedy yesterday.

Mr Vicary trained at the NZ Skydiving School, where he discovered a love of base jumping and wingsuit flying.


Dan Vicary during a tandem skydive in the French Alps

He recalled the decision to take up an extreme sport career on Facebook.

"What a time in my life - my first outdoor job. I just said goodbye to a life working in factories making good money, working 12-hour shifts, thinking about my new TV, new car, buying a house, getting matching furniture ... Shortly after I sold my house, became a pro skydiver and began my journey towards base jumping."

He worked in Australia, where he met Ms Hutchins, "racking up jump numbers" and "wingsuiting [his] face off".

In 2009, Mr Vicary took nine months off work and went on a "mission" to base jump in "crazy places".

By the time he died he had completed more than 450 wingsuit flights, 750 base jumps and 6000 skydives.

"Today's technology allows us to pursue our passion for unpowered flight in some of the most beautiful, untouched places in the world," he said on his website.

"I and a group of dedicated, motivated athletes have been professionally wingsuiting, speedflying, skydiving and base jumping around the world for many years now - the evolution of unpowered flight into something more than just `falling' has been truly breathtaking. I am truly excited to be a part of the evolution - now find out what the new age of air sports can do for you."

Mr Vicary was well known in Switzerland and throughout the global air sport community.

As well as being a professional in wingsuit, base jumping and sky diving, he also coached and was highly regarded in the industry.

He had jumped from planes, helicopters and buildings across New Zealand and Australia as well as the Idaho Desert, remote areas of China, Thailand, Malaysia and Europe.

Many of his adventures were filmed and posted on YouTube.

In a recent interview he said his passion for air sports had taken him around the world and enabled him to meet "some of the most inspirational, motivated, brilliant and humble people on the planet".

He was described as a "sensation-seeker with a lust for life" who had been "chasing the dream of human flight since he was just a boy".

Mr Vicary's Facebook page was inundated with tributes from around the globe.

Mark Williams said Mr Vicary was ``an inspiration to all who push life's boundaries''.

About wingsuit flying:

• Wingsuit flying Participants wear a special jumpsuit called a wingsuit. They jump from a plane or helicopter and "fly" through the air before deploying a parachute for landing.

• About 20 people are killed each year in Switzerland wingsuit flying.

• Base jumping

• Participants jump from fixed objects and use a parachute to break their fall. Base is an acronym representing the categories of fixed objects from which participants can jump - building, antenna, span, and earth (usually from a cliff in a wingsuit). It is believed 228 people had died while base jumping since 1981.

- NZ Herald

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