The helicopter swept in over Lake Hayes, landing gently in front of hundreds of mourners.
The tears, hugs and shock on the faces of Queenstown helicopter pilot Mitchell Gameren’s friends, family and colleagues said it all – they did not think they should be there.
The words came, mixing sorrow with joy, and tears with laughter, remembering a young man who died too early.
A rifle and cricket bat were placed on his coffin, and a snowboard leaned against it – all within sight of the helicopter on the grass outside.
Parting words of ”rest in peace” were interspersed with ”fly high”.
Gameren, 28, was at the controls of the Alpine Adventures AS350 Squirrel helicopter which crashed on Fox Glacier on November 21, killing all seven people aboard.
Bad weather hampered the recovery of the bodies.
At Tuesday’s funeral service at Lake Hayes Pavilion, Gameren was remembered as a lover of people, animals and the outdoors, with a passion for flying.
Brett Gameren, who is also a helicopter pilot, was in tears recalling flying with his younger brother just three weeks ago.
“I was so impressed with his knowledge and how he loved showing his passengers the best time on the ice.
“He was smiling the whole flight.
“After the flight, I wrapped my arms around him and told him I was proud of him.”
Paul Gameren said his son’s own words have helped him deal with his death.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to live it full, Dad – it’s a privilege, not a right.’ And I think Mitch lived the motto to the fullest.”
Family friend Grant Butson said the family painted a portrait of a man who “knew much, loved much and had a zest for life, with a twinkling personality”.
The family thanked police, rescue teams and the Fox Glacier community – with special thanks to the recovery crews.
“To the families and friends worldwide affected by this terrible tragedy they share in their pain and extend their deepest sympathies,” Butson said.
On his return from working in Africa, Mr Gameren walked taller and had grown in confidence. His father said he noticed the change.
“He wanted to progress in the aviation industry and he had such a passion for it.”
Gameren was remembered for his support and attentiveness, including surprising friends during a boys’ trip to the United States.
He was cheeky and adventurous. And while flying, Gameren was living his dream.
Apart from Gameren, the other people killed in the Fox Glacier crash were English tourists Andrew Virco, 50, Katharine Walker, 51, Nigel Edwin Charlton, 66, and his wife Cynthia, 70, and Australians Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s investigation into the crash is expected to take 18 months.
– Otago Daily Times