Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Victim's son welcomes Fox Glacier crash review

A new review into the 2010 Fox Glacier plane crash will call on skills and expertise from outside the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

After examining the wreckage, independent experts Tom McCready and Andrew McGregor told TV3's 3rd Degree it was unlikely the small plane crashed as a result of overloading, instead saying mechanical failure was likely to blame.

The Fletcher FU24 crashed on September 4, 2010, killing all nine on board. The findings of the initial TAIC investigation – that the plane crashed due to a weight and balance issue – have been called into question following investigations by 3rd Degree.

Mr McCready and Mr McGregor will now take part in a review of that investigation, which has been labelled "abysmal" by Jake Miller, the son of crash victim and Skydive New Zealand co-owner Rod Miller.

"They realize they screwed up from the start," Jake Miller said on Firstline this morning.

"This is what we have been calling for all along – for them to review the wreckage and review the way they handled their investigation."

Mr Miller welcomes the appointment of Mr McCready and Mr McGregor.

"Having expert opinion from outside of the commission has been really important for us because obviously the first time they did it, they didn't seem able to do it properly."

While acknowledging the true cause of the crash may never be known, Mr Miller hopes the new investigation will prevent similar tragedies.

"For us, it's all about avoiding anything like this happening in the future. To be honest, the only way we can do that is finding out the true cause of the accident."

Failing that, Mr Miller says at the least TAIC should "front up" and apologize for getting it so wrong.

VIDEO: 3rd Degree's latest report on the crash

Story and video:

NZ Aerospace Fletcher FU24-954,   ZK-EUF,  Skydive New Zealand, Accident occurred September 04, 2010 at  Fox Glacier Airstrip, New Zealand
Report Details 

Investigation 10-009

Report 10-009: Walter Fletcher FU24, ZK-EUF, loss of control on take-off and impact with terrain, Fox Glacier aerodrome, South Westland, 4 September 2010

On 4 September 2010 the pilot of a Walter Fletcher aeroplane with 8 parachutists on board lost control during take-off from Fox Glacier aerodrome. The aeroplane crashed in a paddock adjacent to the runway, killing all 9 occupants.

The Walter Fletcher had been modified from an agricultural aeroplane into a parachute-drop aeroplane some 3 months before the accident. The modification to the aircraft had been poorly managed, and discrepancies in the aeroplane?s documentation had not been detected by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had approved the change in category.

The new owner and operator of the aeroplane had not completed any weight and balance calculations on the aeroplane before it entered service, nor at any time before the accident. As a result the aeroplane was being flown outside its loading limits every time it carried a full load of 8 parachutists. On the accident flight the centre of gravity of the aeroplane was well rear of its aft limit and it became airborne at too low a speed to be controllable. The pilot was unable to regain control and the aeroplane continued to pitch up, then rolled left before striking the ground nearly vertically.


The Commission made 6 recommendations to the Director of Civil Aviation. Three related to the operation of parachute-drop aircraft, 2 related to the process for converting aircraft for another purpose and one related to seat restraints. A recommendation was made to the Secretary for Transport regarding the need for a drug and alcohol detection and deterrence regime for the various transport modes.

Key lessons

The investigation findings and recommendations provided reminders of the following practices that contribute to aviation safety:

- no 2 aircraft of the same model are exactly the same, even if they look that way; therefore pilots must do weight and balance calculations for every individual aircraft
- modifying aircraft is a safety-critical process that must be done in strict accordance with rules and guidelines and with appropriate regulatory oversight
- good rules, regulations and recommended practices are key to ensuring safe commercial aviation operations
- operators need to ensure that aircraft are being operated in accordance with prescribed rules and guidelines, and flown within their operating limitations
- aircraft operations need to be accompanied by relevant and robust procedures
- maintaining flight safety requires active participation and a co-ordinated approach by all sectors of the industry.