7 Dec 2017

Helicopter crash revealed a culture of pilots pushing limits

5:02 pm on 7 December 2017

A fatal helicopter crash shows there is a culture of pilots pushing aircraft to their limits, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) says.

Crumpled helicopter on the snow

One person, Jerome Box, died in this heli-skiing accident near Wanaka. Photo: ( Supplied / TAIC )

The crash in 2014 killed Auckland man Jerome Box and injured six others on Mount Alta and happened about 10km east of Lake Wanaka, when the aircraft was approaching a landing site.

The commission said the plane was loaded about 30kg over the maximum permissible weight, and its centre of gravity was just forward of what was allowed.

The commission said it was operating close to limit for hovering.

There was a culture among some helicopter pilots in New Zealand of operating planes beyond the published limits, it said.

"There was no mechanical reason for the accident. The engine was delivering high power and the helicopter was controllable. The pilot was experienced and had trained in mountain flying and heli-ski operations."

The chopper was operated by a Queenstown based tourism company, The Helicopter Line.

The crash happened when the Squirrel helicopter carrying a pilot, a ski guide and five skiers crashed while taking skiers to a mountain ridge.

On the approach to the landing site the helicopter began to sink below the pilot's intended angle of approach.

The pilot discontinued the approach by turning the helicopter away from the ridgeline and down the mountain.

However, he was unable to sustain enough height and the helicopter struck the steep, snow-clad slope heavily and rolled 300 metres down the mountain.

Other choppers run by the company rushed in to help the injured.

The Civil Aviation Authority prosecuted The Helicopter Line over the crash. It pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in March.

The Helicopter Line said it accepted TAIC's recommendations and had taken definitive action in response.

It said there would be no further comment while related legal matters remain unresolved between itself and the Civil Aviation Authority.

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