Pilot’s sisters suffer ‘hug fatigue’

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The sisters of a Queenstown parapenter who died last month say they have been overwhelmed by support and are suffering “hug fatigue”.

GForce Paragliding pilot Ben Letham, 26, originally from Scotland, died on April 22 after crashing while on a solo recreational flight.

One of his sisters, Vicky Zoers, told the Otago Daily Times yesterday she could not express how “overwhelmed, how loved and supported we, as a family, feel”.

Zoers worked in Queenstown for eight years, at Dux de Lux, leaving in 2014.

While her homecoming last Tuesday was “bittersweet”, she says she and her sisters, Rebecca, Jessica and Katherine, had been “totally bowled over” by the community support.

“I know that Queenstown has this undercurrent – the QT family, when somebody is in a situation, people rally and rally hard.

“I know that, but I didn’t expect this.

“I didn’t expect the amount of love and warmth and support we’ve felt from everybody and I have to say I’m suffering from hug fatigue; a hug from a Southland man is a hug in itself, but when you get it repeatedly, over and over, my muscles are struggling.”

Zoers says it was important her three sisters came to Queenstown to experience the
community’s love and support.

On Monday, all four women took part in a memorial flight, from Queenstown’s gondola hill to the Queenstown Recreation Ground, along with Letham’s friends and GForce colleagues.

The experience helped, Zoers says.

“The boys have just been amazing – GForce have just been right there, really supportive.”

Zoers says Letham, the baby of the family, travelled to Queenstown for the first time on his 21st birthday after she had begged him to come “for years”, knowing how much the keen surfer, mountain and rock climber would enjoy the adventure lifestyle.

“He just never stopped. He was just always thinking about the next mission, the next thing to do – climb higher, go further, fly higher.

“He was just one of those people that rather than talking about it, he just did it.

“He’s always been that way, always, since he was a kid.”

On arrival GForce “took him under their wing, literally” – he was the first and last person the
company had ever hired with no prior experience.

Zoers: “His character and his enthusiasm won the day.

“He just loved it.”

While her brother’s death was a shock, Zoers says it’s something the family had talked at length about, for some time.

A few years ago Letham broke his back and was told he would “probably” walk again.

“But he was determined – he was going to get up [and] he was going to get on with it.

“He just fully lived life and embraced it.”

By yesterday afternoon, a crowdfunding page set up to help the family with expenses related to his services had raised £11,610 – almost $21,670.

That was completely unexpected, Zoers says.

“But it’s a testament to Ben and how he gave people the time; how he made them feel happier about life.

“It makes us very proud as sisters – massively proud.”

Money left over after covering the costs incurred would go towards permanent memorials, three of which are planned.

GForce intends erecting a plaque in his memory beside one for parapenter Jimmy Truelove – someone Letham considered an idol, who died in a gliding accident near Lake Hawea in 2006.

There were also plans to erect a plaque on the Queenstown Primary School grounds, at a tree beside where Letham landed, while a third plaque would be erected on the west coast of Scotland by the surfing community, where a final service is planned on the family’s return.

“It really makes you think about your own passing and how you’d like to be remembered – I’m going to have a proper strop if I don’t get something similar,” Zoers jokes.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Authority mouthpiece Philippa Langley says the investigation into the cause of Letham’s crash is ongoing.

“It is anticipated that the investigation report will be complete within six to 12 months.”

Otago Daily Times