26 Apr 2010

Dead airmen's bodies retrieved from crash site

5:16 am on 26 April 2010

Rescue workers have recovered the bodies of the three air force personnel killed when their helicopter crashed near Wellington.

The RNZAF Iroquois helicopter crashed near Pukerua Bay north of Wellington.

Flying Officer Daniel Stephen Gregory, 28, Corporal Benjamin Andrew Carson, 25, and Flight Lieutenant Hayden Peter Madsen, 33, died in the crash.

Another member of the air force was taken to Wellington hospital in a critical condition.

The air force says it was one of three helicopters from Ohakea air base going to Wellington for a dawn service in the capital on Anzac Day.

The crash occurred in a ravine on farmland shortly before 6am on Sunday.

The men's bodies were not able to be recovered from the site because of the steep terrain until just before nightfall on Sunday.

The wreckage is upside down in a gully above Centennial Highway, just north of Pukerua Bay.

Westpac Trust helicopter crewman Dave Greenburg, who attended the crash, did not expect to find any survivors.

He said he was amazed to hear a survivor had been found about 20 metres from the crash site, with only a bush stopping him slipping down the hillside.

He is now in a critical condition in Wellington hospital.

Kapiti-Mana Area Commander Inspector John Spence said it's tragic for the air force to lose three of their own on a day of remembrance for the armed services.

Investigations underway

Speaking at Ohakea on Sunday afternoon, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott told reporters that a court of inquiry is being convened to determine the cause of the crash.

He said the last crash that involved three fatalities was also an Iroquois helicopter which crashed in the Kaipara harbour in 1972.

The Government has ordered a full inquiry into the crash.

Defence minister Wayne Mapp says the fleet is due to be replaced, but it is not known if the age or maintenance of the helicopter had anything to do with the crash.

PM to return home

Prime Minister John Key is in Turkey for the 95th Anzac Day commemorations, and was to have carried on to visit Bahrain, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

However he will now leave Turkey as soon as the commemorations are over and head straight back to New Zealand.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister says Mr Key hopes to be back in the country by Tuesday morning.

Mr Key said he is shocked and saddened by the death of the three.

Mr Key said it is an absolute tragedy that the crash happened when the helicopter was heading to Wellington for an Anzac Day flypast and "a stark reminder that our service personnel still face great risks today as they serve their country".

Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand has extended his sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of the dead, and referred to the crash as a bitter blow on Anzac Day.

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he is deeply saddened by the deaths of the New Zealanders.

Mr Rudd said the date of the accident compounded the tragedy, coming as it did when Australians and New Zealanders were coming together to honour the memory and commemorate the sacrifice made by service men and women.

It is the second fatal crash for the air force this year.

A member of the Red Checkers aerobatic display team, Squadron Leader Nick Cree, 32, was killed during a practice flight in a CT-4E Airtrainer in Manawatu, on 14 January.