17 Aug 2012

Coroner asks if skydiving fleet can be grounded

7:40 pm on 17 August 2012

A Coroner has asked if it would be possible to ground the entire fleet of skydiver planes until problems relating to wearing restraints are dealt with.

An inquest is being held into the fatal crash of a skydiving plane at Fox Glacier on 4 September 2010, killing all nine people on board.

Investigators have recommended the use of restraints to prevent skydivers from slipping backwards at take-off, which is one of the possible factors which contributed to the crash.

The industry fears the restraints will result in parachutes inadvertently deploying inside planes.

At the inquest in Greymouth on Friday, Coroner Richard McElrea asked Civil Aviation Authority manager John Lanham if it would be possible to immediately ground the fleet until the option of using restraints had been fully explored. Mr Lanham replied that it would be possible.

Mr McElrea said he is convinced that the crash was due to weight and balance issues with the aircraft.

Earlier, another Civil Aviation Authority manager told the inquest the CAA had only limited funds for monitoring safety, and at the time of the crash did not consider skydiving worthy of close attention.

Chris Ford said the authority received just over $400,000 a year to monitor health and safety and, therefore, could not maintain a watch over the entire aviation sector.

Mr Ford said the authority focused on medium to large passenger airlines and the agricultural sector which had a poor safety record.

He said it carried out an audit of four skydiving operators a month before the crash to establish how safe the sector was and found no issues to justify a further look at the industry.

However, Mr Ford admitted the audit did not look at whether planes were being overloaded.