Report into 2018 Lake Wakatipu skydiving death includes multiple recommendations

The body of 27-year-old Tyler Nii has never been found.
The body of 27-year-old Tyler Nii has never been found. Photo credit: Newshub (File)

Skydiving businesses in New Zealand need to be better prepared for accidental water landings, according to a new report.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its final report into a fatal accident in which a tandem skydiving pair crash-landed into Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown in January 2018.

Tyler Nii, a 27-year-old tennis coach from the US, died in the accident.

TAIC's Chief Investigator of Accidents, Harald Hendel, says the tandem pair experienced a double parachute malfunction and Nii's lifejacket did not properly inflate.

"To all parachutists, we're saying accidental landings in water are possible and riskier than you might think, so it's vital that you practice doing it," Hendel said.

The skydive had gone as normal until the main parachute opened unevenly with suspension lines twisted. The tandem master couldn't correct the line twist, so cut away the main chute and deployed the reserve. 

Tension knots shortened some suspension lines of the reserve chute, distorting its canopy and causing a fast spin.

"The Commission found the main chute's uneven opening and twisted lines – a hazard that parachutists anticipate and practice for - was likely due to its packing," Hendel said.

"We couldn't conclusively determine why tension knots appeared in the reserve chute's lines."

Just before the pair hit the water, the tandem master managed to ease the spin rate and reduce the force of impact.

The tandem master dived underwater, cut away the lines entwined around the legs of both and tried unsuccessfully to inflate Nii's lifejacket to his head above water. 

Rescuers arriving at the scene could not find Nii, whose body has yet to be recovered.

"The Commission never recovered the rider's lifejacket and couldn't conclusively determine why it only partially inflated. But we did identify a risk that life jackets certified for parachuting have been unsuitable for parachuting conditions," Hendel said.

"Another key issue was that the operator's water emergency response plan had no regard for the anticipated time that people can survive in cold water; that's a problem because it increased the likelihood that rescuers would arrive too late to save lives."

TAIC recommended that the Ministry of Transport work with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and New Zealand's two Parachute Recreation Organisations to improve rules to mitigate the risks of unintended water landings, and to specify flotation devices that are suitable for use by parachutists.

TAIC also recommended that the CAA review its system for reporting parachute accidents and incidents to inform decisions that make parachuting safer.