The American tourist who tragically died in an ill-fated tandem skydiving fall into Lake Wakatipu this week had talked about his plans to go skydiving for the first time in New Zealand.
Tyler Nii, 27, had been in New Zealand for just days when he and his instructor plunged into Lake Wakatipu after getting into difficulty.
The instructor was plucked from the lake alive but Nii, who was travelling alone, hasn’t been seen since and is presumed dead.
Nii, who was a junior tennis coach for Player Capital in California, discussed his trip to New Zealand with one of his top young rising players players.
Natasha Rajaram, 11, said Nii told her he planned to go skydiving for the first time during his trip. It was unclear whether Nii had completed another skydive before the one which claimed his life.
Natasha Rajaram (right) said her tennis coach Tyler Nii was always happy. Photo / Supplied
Natasha’s mum Tamara Rajaram said Nii had also talked about how he was looking forward to visiting New Zealand’s beaches and famous hiking spots, among other places.
She said her family were devastated when they heard about the accident.
“We didn’t believe it,” Tamara said.
“He had sent me an email after he landed there,” said Tamara who had been emailing Nii about one of her daughter’s upcoming tennis tournament.
“I asked him to please be safe and have a safe return.”
Tamara said Nii was a very positive person.
“He just had such a zest for life. He loved each and every day for the value it brought him and he passed that on to every single child he coached.”
Nii coached Natasha for about four years. He was due to return to California on January 18 to accompany her to a tennis tournament in Las Vegas.
“Tyler was always happy…He was excited about life,” said Natasha.
“He was the kind of guy you would go to if you were feeling sad and you would talk to him and give him a big hug and he would say ‘everything should be okay'”.
Nii also coached tennis at Archbishop Mitty High School in California and had served on the board of the Northern California section of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) – the national governing body for the sport.
USTA Northern California executive director Steve Leube said Nii was “a charming, funny, intelligent young man with a bright future.”
“His energy and passion in the game will be truly missed. Sadly we have lost a shining star.”
Brian Eagleson, athletic director at Archbishop Mitty High School, said Nii was a highly respected member of the tennis community and was adored by his students.
“All of us: players, friends, and colleagues, are saddened by his death. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family at this time.”
Nii and his instructor were the last of nine pairs to jump from a commercial NZONE skydive plane on Wednesday afternoon.
An extensive search failed to find Nii who is presumed to have died.
A police spokesperson said the Police National Dive Squad were due in Queenstown tomorrow.
Last night police said the dive squad would assess the conditions as well as the viability of using sonar equipment to assist with locating and recovering Nii’s body.
Inspector Olaf Jensen, of Otago Lake Central Police, said the operation was complex, given the depth of the lake. The water is up to 250m deep where the pair entered the lake.
The tandem master who survived the crash was plucked out of the water after a helicopter pilot who had been flying nearby heard a distress call over the radio about the incident and called for help.
Two of his colleagues jumped into a boat and came to the rescue of the tandem master in the water.
NZONE director Anthony Ritter spoke to media in Queenstown this week about the crash-landing, which happened during one of his company’s skydiving operations.
Ritter dismissed as “purely speculative” a parachute malfunction as the potential cause of the crash-landing and said it was too early to determine what caused the fatal accident.
NZONE staff were assisting police and consular officials to try to contact the man’s next of kin overseas.
Ritter extended the company’s deepest sympathies to the man’s family and friends.
“We’re all devastated with yesterday’s events.”
NZONE had shut down its operations in Queenstown temporarily and was co-operating with the police and other investigators, including the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.
Ritter said the company would also undertake its own internal review of what happened, adding that staff had been offered counselling.
It was the first fatal incident for NZONE in 27 years he said.
But it is the second accident in 12 months involving the company.
A tandem jump last January ended in a crash-landing with an instructor and trainee instructor suffering serious injuries.
And in 2015, a skydiving cameraman working for the company ended up in Dunedin Hospital with serious injuries after a jump went wrong.
NZONE Skydive business development manager Derek Melnick told the Otago Daily Times in September 2015 that a cameraman accompanying a group of customers on a skydive about 1pm suffered multiple injuries after a parachute ”malfunction” caused him to land heavily.
He was skydiving solo and no customers were involved in the incident, Melnick said.
”He is one of our senior crew members, with a number of years’ experience.”
The company’s operations were suspended for a period of time.
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