9 May 2012

Widespead blame for Fox Glacier plane crash

10:26 pm on 9 May 2012

A plane crash that killed nine people has been blamed on the pilot, the company that operated the plane, the firm that modified it and industry regulator the Civil Aviation Authority.

The widespread criticism comes in a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report on the crash of a converted topdressing plane at a Fox Glacier airstrip.

Eight parachutists and the pilot died when the Walter Fletcher plane plunged to the ground on 4 September 2010. Four tourists - from Ireland, Australia, Germany and England - were among those killed.

The commission released its final report into the crash on Wednesday. It said the skydiving plane took off at a speed too low for it to be controllable. The plane reached an altitude of 100 metres then pitched, rolled left and plunged vertically to the ground.

It said the position of the skydivers inside was too far towards the rear of the plane, increasing the risk of it stalling. This was not checked by the pilot on that nor any other of the 193 skydiving flights made by the aircraft.

The TAIC report said the owner and operator of the plane had not completed weight and balance calculations before it entered service, nor at any time before the accident. It also faulted the engineering firm that converted the plane for skydiving use.

TAIC chief investigator Ian McLelland said regulation of the industry had not kept up with the exponential expansion of adventure activities over the past decade.

"We had a disconnect between what was in place in terms of regulatory oversight and what was happening out there in the field."

The report goes on to say discrepancies in the aeroplane's documentation had not been detected by the Civil Aviation Authority, which had approved its change of use.

Victim's father calls for urgent changes

The father of a British man who died in the crash has written to Prime Minister John Key calling for an urgent review of air safety in New Zealand.

Chris Coker lost his 24-year-old son, Bradley. He told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday that aviation rules and laws are not as well enforced in New Zealand as in Europe.

"New Zealand promotes itself as an adventure capital of the world. If you're going to do that, I think that you do need a legal system ... and a safety regulation that backs it up.

"And if you can't cope with that, well then just don't tell us lies."

Mr Coker said people should also be able to sue tourism companies and safety authorities more easily for wrongful death and negligence. He said until the Prime Minister acts, the beauty of New Zealand will continue to disguise a regulatory and legal culture that puts people's lives in significant danger.

John Key, who is also the Tourism Minister, said on Wednesday the crash was tragic, but Mr Coker has made some incorrect claims and changes have already been made.

"He's argued that in the last 12 or 14 years, 2400 people have died as a result of adventure tourism - that's simply not right.

"In the last eight years in New Zealand, we think around about 50 people have lost their lives and that was one of the reasons why when I became the minister, quite early on I drove change, because I think that industry needed to tighten up a bit - and that is happening."

CAA defends timing of new regulations

The Civil Aviation Authority on Wednesday defended the fact new regulations governing the adventure tourism industry have only just come into effect, almost two years after the Fox Glacier crash.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission's report said oversight of the industry was inadequate and the authority could have been more proactive.

The authority said regulation has significantly improved since then - although a new rule which means operators must be certified came into effect only on 1 May this year.

CAA director Graham Harris told Checkpoint that work on the safety regulation started before the crash.

"This report came out yesterday. The work on the rule didn't have the benefit of TAIC's excellent work."