Saturday, February 21, 2015

Investigators talk to helicopter company

Wreckage of the Robinson 44 helicopter that crashed on Thursday in a valley near Queenstown. 
Photo: NZ Police

Investigators are due to start interviewing representatives of a helicopter company after two people died when one of its choppers crashed.

James Louis Patterson Gardner, 18, of Queenstown and Stephen Anthony Nicholson Combe, 42, of Wanaka were found dead in Lochy River basin on Thursday after their Robinson R44 helicopter operated by Over the Top crashed.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission and Civil Aviation Authority will begin interviewing representatives of the company on Sunday.

The company said in a statement it was working to provide information in the hope others in the industry would be kept safe.

On Saturday, CAA banned pilots from flying Robinson R44 series helicopters fitted with a dash 7 main rotor blade - the same model as the one that crashed.

It's expected the ban will affect about 80 aircraft.

It follows advice from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission and CAA investigators at the scene who believed there could be similarities with an earlier R44 incident in January.

On that occasion the pilot experienced severe vibration but managed to land safely.

The blade from Thursday's fatal crash is being sent to the manufacturer and the United States Federal Aviation Administration for analysis.

The wreckage was recovered on Saturday and will be taken to TAIC's Wellington facility for examination.

Mr Gardner was the son of company boss Louisa "Choppy" Patterson while Mr Combe had more than 12 years' experience flying in the area.

Their deaths have been referred to the coroner.


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