Monday, August 13, 2012

NZ Aerospace Fletcher FU24-954, Skydive New Zealand, ZK-EUF: Accident occurred September 4, 2010 at Fox Glacier Airstrip - New Zealand

 Fox Glacier fire chief John Sullivan, who was first on the scene of the Fox Glacier plane crash. 

A witness of the Fox Glacier plane crash that killed nine people has told an inquest watching the plane go down was like watching a "kamikaze pilot". 

An inquest into the September 4, 2010, crash in Fox Glacier started in Greymouth yesterday and can be watched live online. 

The accident happened less than nine hours after Christchurch's magnitude-7.1 earthquake, which overshadowed the crash at the time. 

Those killed included Skydive New Zealand director and tandem dive master Rod Miller, 55, of Greymouth; pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, of Queenstown; and dive masters Adam Bennett, 47, from Australia but living in Motueka, Michael Suter, 32, of New Plymouth, and Christopher McDonald, 62, of Mapua. 

The tourists who died were Patrick Byrne, 26, of Ireland; Glenn Bourke, 18, of Australia; Annika Kirsten, 23, of Germany; and Brad Coker, 24, of England. 

Oliver Mason, who had been in Fox Glacier for about a week and was at the hangar when the accident happened, said the plane took off "quite quickly" and about 30 feet earlier than it should have. 

Mason recalled watching the plane climb and turn, and thinking it was normal. However, he then saw it drop and start losing altitude. 

"We could tell it was in trouble." 

Mason said someone voiced out loud that "something's not right", while another person nearby was "willing the plane to fly" by saying "come on". 

"I remember the sound it made as it dropped ... It was like a kamikaze pilot." 

One witness grabbed one of the skydiver's girlfriends and turned her away so she would not see the plane go down, he said. 

As the plane hit the ground there was a "big explosion". 

A few of the witnesses grabbed a a fire extinguisher from the hangar and raced over to the nearby farm where the plane had crashed. 

Despite the explosion, they managed to get close to the wreckage but could not find any survivors.

"At that point I remember other people coming over and milling around and some people were hugging or consoling each other. I think I was in shock." 

More witnesses are expected to be called this afternoon. 

Aviation expert Barry Payne, who wrote a report on the crash, told the inquest that after taking into account several probabilities, the centre of gravity had to be rear of the rearward limit. 

By having the centre of gravity further back, the safety parameters ''become greatly reduced'', he said.

''In my opinion, had the aircraft been loaded in its centre of gravity range and the right weight, this accident wouldn't have occurred.'' 

Payne said accidents were never usually the result of a single event, but a chain of errors lining up.

In this accident, the centre of gravity, an inadequate plane manual and Queenstown-based pilot Chaminda Senadhira's failure to adjust properly, or trim, part of the tail, known as the stabilator, all lined up like ''holes in cheese''. 

Payne said if the trim was not used correctly, it placed strong control forces on the aircraft.

''It can get to the point where you need both hands to overcome that control force, in which case it makes winding that trim handle an onerous task.'' 

Payne questioned how methodical the pilot's pre-flight checklist was. 


Family members of many of the dead addressed the court, some criticising New Zealand's aviation industry and regulations for failing to ensure the safety of their loved ones. 

A letter by the German backpacker's parents, Susanne and Werner Schmidt-Kirsten, was read to the court and expressed their agony at losing their only child. 

They said their "beautiful and talented daughter" was burnt to death when the plane exploded into a fireball. 

They learnt of the crash when reading a newspaper that had a small article about the Canterbury earthquake and briefly mentioned a plane crash had killed nine people, including someone from their German home town. 

They blamed the Civil Aviation Authority for failing to adequately supervise the industry and Skydive New Zealand for acting negligently. 

Wellington Crown solicitor Grant Burston, who is assisting the coroner for the inquest, read a letter by Coker's parents, who called the crash preventable. 

They noted the Government had introduced extra controls on skydiving as a result of the crash.

"There have been without doubt major failings by the Civil Aviation Authority and there were major failings by the aircraft operators." 

They said the plane had been flown out of balance and overloaded 75 times, which meant such an accident was an "inevitable certainty". 

They called for law changes to ensure "proper responsibility" to those who were involved, saying there was no accountability in New Zealand. 

Adam Bennett's mother, Pamela, told the inquest it was hard for her family to express their grief over their loss. 

An adventurous man, Bennett was a base jumper as well as a skydiver and mountaineer. "He always said skydiving and base jumping were safe; extreme but safe." 

Aviation expert Barry Payne, who wrote a report on the crash, told the inquest the plane's manual was inadequate for its use in skydiving, particularly in working out its centre of gravity. 

Safety-critical information, such as the weight and balance data, should have been corrected in the manual when CAA certified it for skydiving. 

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission report in May highlighted similar concerns.

Miller's two sons called for people to hold judgment until the inquest was complete. 

"My father was totally safety conscious in everything he did," Flynn Miller said. "He would have been devastated with the disaster and the loss of so many lives. We miss him very much and wish history could rewrite itself." 

1 comment:

  1. TAIC have since conducted a second investigation. Out of approx 930 investigations this is only the second time this has happened. They have now concluded that it is 99% certain that weight and balance did not cause this accident. They do not know what the cause was.