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Company stunned by paraponter's death

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/04/2017

The Queenstown aviation community is stunned at the death of an experienced paraponter, who fell to his death on Saturday.

Ben Letham, 26, originally from Scotland, crashed into a building at Queenstown Primary School after launching from Skyline Gondola.

"He began flipping over and over again, seemingly out of control," a witness told Fairfax Media not long after the crash.

"Then his parachute just folded and he plummeted to the ground."

Mr Letham had worked full-time for local company GForce Paragliding for three years, the company said in a statement.

Co-director Gavin Taylor said Mr Letham had been flying for about six years.

Conditions on Saturday morning were calm and he could not comment on what might have gone wrong.

"Ben would have done thousands of flights at this site, both commercially and recreationally, but on this day he was flying with his own equipment using a single person wing," Mr Taylor said.

"Our whole team is absolutely devastated by his death. He was a really nice guy, a talented pilot, and we're stunned to lose one of the youngest members of our team with his whole life ahead of him."

Mr Letham was a volunteer with the alpine cliff rescue team.

GForce Paragliding has temporarily suspended operations as a mark of respect.

In the same statement, Queenstown Primary School principal Fiona Cavanagh says the school is "shocked and saddened" to learn of the death on school grounds.

The Civil Aviation Authority has been notified of the crash.

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