Wairarapa rafting tragedy victim farewelled

By Nathan Crombie

Hundreds of mourners gathered at a Greytown farm yesterday to farewell Oscar-winning sound editor Michael "Hoppy" Hopkins, who drowned while rafting on the Waiohine River.

Hopkins, 53, was caught in a flash flood on Sunday while rafting with his wife, Nicci, and another man. He drowned when he was thrown from his inflatable raft into a fast-flowing eddy, according to police, while his wife and the other man survived.

Hopkins won Academy Awards for his work on Sir Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in 2003 and King Kong three year later. He also was nominated during his career for five BAFTA awards and had worked on Hollywood hits including Transformers, Kung Fu Panda and Dream Girls.

Veteran jetboater Bruce Slater rescued Hopkins' wife, plucking her to safety from an otherwise inaccessible stretch of the riverbank about two hours after the vessel capsized.

Mr Slater, who is also an expert on the Waiohine River, earlier told the Wairarapa Times-Age the trio were well-equipped but unlucky to have been caught in an explosive wall of water he blamed for the fatality.

Film-maker Sir Peter Jackson was not seen among mourners yesterday at the Hopkins family home, which is located just south of Greytown. The property is known as The Farm and is flanked by nut trees and a neighbouring olive grove on State Highway 2.

Several police officers were slowing highway traffic outside the property yesterday to allow mourners to safely enter and exit the service.

Celebrant Pam Bailey officiated at the service and pallbearers included Whetu Hopkins, Hayden Keir-Smith, Tony Roberts, David Saunders, Chris McNatty and Ray Beentjes.

News of the Oscar-winner's death has been reported internationally through outlets including Fox News and the BBC, and online tributes have been pouring in from friends and colleagues around the globe.

Sue McCutheon wrote that the Wellington film community had lost a "shining star".

Erik Aadahl said Mr Hopkins had given "voice and soul" to many characters immortalised in film. "There's a big empty space left in his absence."

Sir Peter paid tribute to Mr Hopkins on Wednesday, saying he was genuine, caring and warm hearted and under his guidance New Zealand became recognised as one of the leading hubs of post-production sound in the world.

A private cremation was held after the service and farewell yesterday.


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