An Italian man is dead after his parachute failed to open on a skydiving flight and he crashed to his death in front of a horrified Wanaka man.

The accident happened about 4pm yesterday afternoon while the 38-year-old was filming others on a tandem skydive near Wanaka airport.

It appeared he had difficulties with his main and reserve parachutes and he landed on a driving range in front of James Loughnan, who had been working on his plane across State Highway 6 from the range.

He told the Herald last night he was in shock from seeing the man die.
"His reserve chute failed and that was it."


Mr Loughnan didn't pay much attention to the skydiver at first because it isn't such an uncommon sight. "These guys come flying in at all different angles but you hardly expect them to crash in that way."

He heard the flutter of a parachute and looked up to see the skydiver at about 70m, then dropping quickly to the ground. The skydiver's white reserve shoot was trailing behind but was not deployed enough to break his fall.

He suspected the dead man was Italian because the letters ITA were written on his harness, "so it was a reasonable guess".

"It happened in front of me. It's straightforward, he came straight down." It happened quickly and he never heard the man make a sound.

He suspected he might have been travelling with others because he was filming other skydivers when the tragedy occurred.

The bag for the reserve shoot was found just a few metres from the skydiver, indicating the chute had been deployed close to the ground while the main chute was found a few hundred metres away.

Mr Loughnan said unlike other skydivers in the air at the time, this skydiver was on his own without a tandem passenger. He knew from his own flying experience that when a southeasterly wind was blowing - as it was when the skydiver jumped - there could be rotational turbulence off hills near where he hit the ground.

Witnesses had been offered counselling and Mr Loughnan said he'd had to have "several large glasses of Scotch" after the ordeal.

A spokesman for the Italian Embassy in Wellington said staff were waiting to confirm the man's identity so they could contact family in Italy.

"We tried to talk with the police officer to get more detail and also the passport and everything."

The spokesman said the man's body had been taken to Dunedin.

Police and the Civil Aviation Authority are investigating, and the death has been reported to the Coroner.

October 2011: A 34-year-old man sustained spinal injuries when his parachute collapsed in a paragliding incident near Whakamaru.

June 2010: Gary Cullen, 51, of Ruakaka in Northland was killed in Norway when a rogue gust of wind caught his inflated parachute during a "ground launching" and he was dragged down a hill.

October 2008: Jo Snodin, 27, an experienced skydiving videographer, failed to slow down her parachute as she came in to land at Mercer Airport. She suffered moderate injuries to her leg and pelvis as she hit the ground.

February 2008: Simon Hepple, 32, lost air in his parachute in a landing which killed him at Mercer Airport.

December 2001: A 46-year-old skydiver died after crashing while completing a manoeuvre close to landing at an airfield near Hastings.