The young paraglider pilot who died after crashing into Mauao was enjoying his second flight of the day, smiling and happy, just moments before tragedy struck.
The Tauranga pilot died after colliding with the rocky face of Mauao during his second flight of a club day on Saturday organised by the Bay of Plenty Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club.
''He was having a great flight, he was smiling and happy - everyone was happy. We were all flying around having a great time,'' hang glider pilot Dave Shaw said.
The tragedy unfolded before his eyes and he flew straight to Mount Main Beach to raise the alarm.
The Bay's hang glider and paraglider fraternity has been devastated by Saturday's death.
''It was devastating,'' Shaw said.
''He was a very nice kid - it was so tragic.''
Tauranga police had not yet released the name of the pilot as of Sunday evening.
Shaw, who has been hang gliding for 33 years, described the flying conditions on Saturday as perfect.
''It was silky smooth air.''
The death will be investigated by Civil Aviation and Victim Support was being offered to those who were at the scene.
The victim was well into his second flight when the tragedy happened.
Earlier on Saturday, Shaw had taken the young man up in a 4WD to the launch platform high up on Mauao for his first flight of the day.
Shaw described the man as experienced but not overly experienced.
''I would class him as a safe pilot."
He said emergency services deserved a big thanks for doing a great job on Saturday.
Bay of Plenty Hang Gliding and Paragliding Club president Dave Washer said the pilot was very familiar with the site.
''We are very gutted.''
Club days are a popular spectacle for beachgoers, who enjoy watching the paraglider pilots coming in to make landings on the small target pinned on Main Beach.
The club in its submission to the Mauao Historic Reserve Management Plan hearings last October said that although a small site, Mauao was one of the most spectacular and beautiful hang-gliding sites in New Zealand.
''Mauao has been flown by hang gliders since the late 1960s. One of the early pioneers remains an active pilot to this day,'' the club's hang-glider safety officer James Low said in the submission.
He said local hang-glider pilots had invested considerably in equipment that could be conveniently used only on Mauao.
Low said the club had developed safety and operational procedures to ensure Mauao was appropriately provided for by CAA, and negotiated considerate vehicle access that respected other users and values.
The operational procedures were site ratings and detailed take-off and landing procedures and limits.
''Our hope is that current operational guidelines for hang gliding will continue to be the benchmark against which future use is measured,'' Low said in the submission.
The next closest site to Tauranga for hang gliders was Swaps quarry near Matamata on the Waikato side of the Kaimai Range. The club lost the use of the Papamoa Hills when it became a reserve in 2004 and vehicle access was no longer permitted.