Erebus investigator killed in crash

Retired chief air accident investigator Mr Ronald Chippindale, who led the inquiry into the Erebus disaster, was killed this morning after being struck by a car in Wellington.

Mr Chippindale, 75, was returning to his Aotea home from his usual early morning walk when he was struck by a car which went out of control in Whitford Brown Avenue, Porirua.

Inspector John Spence, Kapiti Mana Area Police Commander, said the fatality happened at 7.25am.

Mr Chippindale was killed instantly.

Inspector Spence said the car's 18-year-old driver was shaken but uninjured. He has been interviewed and it is likely that serious charges will follow once the investigation has been completed.

Mr Chippindale's investigation on Erebus was published in June 1980.

Nancy Swarbrick, writing in Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, said Mr Chippindale's report explained that at the time of the crash, the plane was flying in whiteout conditions and with the angle of the sun, it was impossible for the pilots to distinguish ground from air.

The report said the plane flew into the icy mountainside in level flight soon after the ground proximity warning had sounded. Mr Chippindale's report ruled out mechanical problems but found fault with the airline.

Mr Chippindale criticised the airline for a late flight-path change that was not mentioned to the crew.

The Civil Aviation Division was also criticised for not rigorously monitoring Antarctic flights.

But the main blame was reserved for the pilots, especially the captain, who was criticised for descending to a low altitude when he was unsure of his position and unable to see the terrain.

Mr Chippindale's conclusion was strongly opposed by some, who saw it as a slur on the professionalism of the dead pilots.

Last March he was one of 22 people who received a New Zealand Special Service Medal (Erebus) at a ceremony in Wellington.

Air New Zealand flight TE901 from Auckland airport crashed into Mt Erebus on November 28, 1979, killing all 257 people on board.

It was announced in 2006 the medal would be awarded for work in what became known as Operation Overdue.

Then Police Minister Annette King said: "This medal recognises the work of extraordinary individuals who undertook the recovery, investigation and identification work in the aftermath of the Erebus disaster, an unparalleled tragedy in our history."

Porirua police are appealing for witnesses who saw the crash. Officers would also like to talk with a man and woman who stopped and helped the driver out of his car.

Inspector Spence said Mr Chippindale, who was married, lived in the Aotea subdivision not far from where the crash happened. One lane was blocked to early commuter traffic until emergency services cleared the scene.

"Mr Chippindale was a keen walker and could be seen most days striding out in the Aotea and Papakowhai areas," Inspector Spence said. "The circumstances of his death are a real tragedy."

People with information are asked to contact Porirua Police on telephone: 04 238 1400.

- NZ HERALD STAFF, NZPA

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