Judge pings paragliding pilot

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By GUY WILLIAMS

A veteran Queenstown paraglider who injured his four-year-old daughter in a reckless landing earlier this year’s copped a $3350 fine.

Daniel Wade Stephens, 46, took off from Coronet Peak for a tandem flight with his little girl on February 12 and was supposed to land in a designated zone at Flight Park Queenstown.

Instead, he decided to land in a fenced-off area in front of the facility’s cafe because, in his
own words, he ‘‘thought it would be a fun thing to do’’.

But Stephens misjudged the landing, causing him and his daughter to hit a wooden fence,
smashing a rail.

His daughter received a large bruise on her forehead, a chipped tooth, split lip and showed
symptoms of concussion.

After Stephens voluntarily notified the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) about the incident, an inspection of his equipment showed he didn’t have warrants of fitness for his canopy nor the pilot and passenger harnesses.

He later admitted operating a paraglider in a manner causing unnecessary danger to a person, and operating an aircraft with out a current warrant of fitness.

In Queenstown’s court on Monday, his lawyer Alice Milne told Judge Chris Sygrove Stephens was of good character, had no prior convictions, had cooperated with CAA and
entered an early guilty plea.

He also felt ‘‘incredible remorse’’ over his actions.

But CAA prosecutor Anna McConachy said Stephens chose to take an ‘‘unnecessary risk’’
while taking a young child paragliding.

Sygrove said Stephens’ offending was aggravated by its premeditation and the risk to his
passenger and the cafe’s patrons.

His lack of warrants of fitness suggested a ‘‘cavalier attitude’’.

He also lacked a current tandem paragliding rating and was not a member of a bona fide
paragliding organisation, the judge said.

‘‘Aviation is an inherently dangerous pursuit,’’ Sygrove said.

‘‘No doubt you’ve had your own demons to deal with from the fact your four-year-old
daughter was injured.’’

Stephens was convicted and fined $2000 on the unnecessary endangerment charge, and a
further $1350 for operating without a warrant of fitness.

He’s been paragliding in the resort for at least the past 13 years, including as a commercial
tandem pilot.

In 2010, Mountain Scene’s sister paper, Otago Daily Times, reported he got stuck in a tree
after a stunt he pulled trying to ‘‘show off’’ in front of a TV crew at Bob’s Peak backfired.

Then, in 2012, Scene reported he gave his tandem client control for manoeuvres while on a commercial flight from the top of the gondola.

During that incident he had to deploy his reserve chute before a rough landing on the One Mile roundabout.

guy.williams@scene.co.nz