Thursday, July 04, 2013

Civil Aviation Authority warned on safety of gyrocopters

Conflicting evidence on the safety design of a gyrocopter which nose-dived, killing two well-known Taranaki men three years ago, has been heard at a coroner's inquest.

Neville Adlam, 70, of New Plymouth, and Stephen Chubb, 51, of Okaiawa, died on November 12, 2009, when their gyrocopter nose-dived after taking off from Hawera aerodrome.

An aircraft engineer told Coroner Carla na Nagara in New Plymouth yesterday that he warned CAA of the dangers of the New Zealand-built model and urged for modifications to be made.

But the CAA inspector told the inquest he had no recall of the conversation.

The official CAA investigation has found it was most likely the crash was caused by a handling error by the owner which resulted in a "bunt-over" from which the gyrocopter could not have recovered.

Test pilot and licensed aircraft engineer Colin Alexander, the technical officer of the Recreational Aircraft Association of New Zealand, gave evidence of telling Mr Chubb that the model, a helithruster gyrocopter with a unique tail configuration compared with other gyrocopters, had a "nasty history" and he needed to be careful.

It had a notorious reputation in New Zealand and could perform badly, with similar behavior to the speed wobbles on land, he said.

His comments were later challenged by the manufacturer.

When he heard Mr Chubb had died he was angry "because I told CAA and they didn't do anything about it," Mr Alexander said.

He later withdrew the comment that he was angry, saying he meant "concerned".

Mr Alexander said he personally had never flown in one and never intended to. Prior to the crash he heard that the aircraft was modified and he, as the inspector, had neither seen nor authorised the modification.

He had spoken to CAA inspector Tony Schischka suggesting they visited the manufacturer, Geoff Price, of Auckland, to discuss ways to make the aircraft model safer.

Ms na Nagara said to Mr Alexander that Mr Schischka had no memory of his concerns.

The manufacturer of the aircraft, Mr Price, responded to Mr Alexander's evidence from the public gallery saying the aircraft which crashed never had a tail modification, however another aircraft did have a modification carried out.

Mr Price said he was concerned that Mr Alexander had put the aircraft in a bad light. He had never heard of the instability Mr Alexander described.

Mr Schischka told the inquest he certified the aircraft on January 27, 2009 after it had undergone the required 10 hours of testing by a test pilot.

The CAA was unaware of any modification to the aircraft and nor did he recall any conversation with Mr Alexander about design faults.

If concerns had been raised he would have done something about it, Mr Schischka said.

Ms na Nagara expressed concerns that the CAA did not have to be alerted if there were any modifications to an aircraft.

She was also concerned that the relevant notes were missing from the aircraft's logbook.

Mr Adlam's son, Denis Adlam, told the coroner his father did not fill out his books as he should have "and it's very disappointing".

In reserving her ruling, Ms na Nagara apologised for the length of time the inquest was taking, saying it was never easy when there was conflicting information.

The inquest had "unwound like a ball of string".

"I hope there are no further significant delays before it is concluded," Ms na Nagara said.

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