'Thank God he's alive' - pilot's miracle escape

By Isaac Davison, Andrew Koubaridis

CAA Safety Investigator Steve Walker at the scene of the crash. Photo / Greg Bowker
CAA Safety Investigator Steve Walker at the scene of the crash. Photo / Greg Bowker

A cameraman who captured the moment a helicopter crashed on Auckland's Viaduct last night described how he pulled the pilot to safety amid fears the wreckage would explode in flames.

Freelance cameraman Murray Job said his footage - showing the chopper crashing after striking a cable - was the most dramatic moment he had captured in his 30-year photography career.

"I heard like a giant gunshot ... I caught the helicopter just before it impacted with the ground ... the workers were running for [their] lives.

"As it was coming down and breaking up, the rotor just tore itself to pieces."

After instinctively capturing the crash on camera, Mr Job rushed to the aid of unconscious pilot Greg Gribble.

"I had a pair of earplugs in and it was still deafening - the engine was running down as it consumed the last fuel it had ...

"I climbed into the back of the machine. I could smell a lot of the aviation fuel around, the skid was really slippery as I climbed up.

"The pilot appeared to be unconscious, and he was still in his seatbelt.

"There were two of us there, and it was a six-point seatbelt, like a race-car type, and I said to him 'How the f*** do we undo this?'

"And I just thought to myself, we've got seconds to get this guy out. If it ignites you're just not going to have a shit's show."

Mr Gribble regained consciousness and with the help of two others, including Mr Job, walked from the wreck. He was taken to Auckland City Hospital with minor injuries and was last night recovering at home.

His wife, Elaine, who rushed to Auckland City Hospital as soon as she heard of the crash, said: "Thank God he's alive, that's all I can say."

Mr Gribble was piloting the Helisika-owned Squirrel helicopter which was being used to help erect a seven-storey Telecom-sponsored Christmas tree near Te Wero Island bridge.

'Thank God he's alive' - helicopter pilot's miracle escape

Someone must have been looking out for him today. It's all we could have prayed for ... Jaz Gribble, pilot's sonA worker who was directly under the chopper holding a cable ducked beneath it as it crashed, and narrowly avoided the rotor blades as they slashed the ground.

That cable - which appeared to come into contact with the chopper's rotor blades - is a central part of the Civil Aviation Authority investigation.

Job, who had been contracted to film erection of the tree, told the Herald: "I've been a press photographer for 15 years and been working in TV for 15 years and it's probably the most dramatic thing I've ever captured."

His photograph, given exclusively to the Herald, shows Mr Gribble's harnessed body loosely flailing from the side of the helicopter as the rotor blades begin to strike the wharf.

Mr Gribble, in his mid-50s, has been flying helicopters for more than 20 years and has clocked up thousands of hours, according to the Helisika website.

Son Jaz Gribble, who also flies for Helisika, was so shaken by the accident and his father's brush with death he did not want to see the film.

"Someone must have been looking out for him today. It's all we could have prayed for ... Someone must have been on his side."

Mr Gribble's daughter Brittany Shivnan said she spoke to her father soon after the crash.

She also works for Helisika, but is on maternity leave.

"I saw him straight away and he was pretty shocked. But, he's alive and that's the main thing," she said.

CAA investigators were examining the scene of the crash yesterday but it could be up to a month before a preliminary report is complete.

Safety investigator Steve Walker said it appeared the cable the helicopter was using for lifting had played a leading role in the crash.

"There's certainly some clues that lead us to believe there was an issue with the cable that was being used, and that it interfered with the helicopter.

He said Mr Gribble was "lucky to walk away from this".

Helisika's website says the company employs three experienced ground staff who "hold all the necessary licences and certificates".

One witness, Jason Aarsen, 33, said the manoeuvre seemed tricky.

"There was so many things that could go wrong. I heard a massive bang and it had clipped the cable or something, then it just dropped and crashed."

Another witness, Ian Ross, said: "It sounded like explosions; like it was blowing up. For the life of me I don't how it didn't catch on fire."

A contractor, who did not want to be named, said he was about 40m from the chopper when it crashed.

"It was a bit nightmarish. ... it all happened in slow motion. I was looking at the rotor blade and thinking, 'I hope that doesn't come this way'."

Fire Service assistant area commander Paul Turner said he believed the pilot had been trying to release a winch cable, but instead the cable held the helicopter down.

Fire officials sprayed foam around the crash site because the helicopter was carrying 200 litres of jet fuel.

Job said the shock of witnessing the accident lasted about an hour.

"I'm just so glad that he was able to walk away from it.

"We've had a lot of tragedy in New Zealand this year, and to be putting up a Christmas tree, something lovely and positive ... I'm just so glad he didn'tget killed. It would've been quite unbearable."

Wife tells of hospital dash

The wife of miracle helicopter pilot Greg Gribble says she feared the worst when she heard her husband had crashed.

"When I saw him in the ward, I thought 'I can't believe it' - he's in one piece," Elaine Gribble said last night. "You just feel pretty sick inside. Thank God he's alive that's all I can say."

She couldn't believe he walked away from it, she said.

Mrs Gribble rushed to his side at Auckland City Hospital when she heard about the crash from her daughter. The trip there, and even her conversations the rest of the day, were a blur.

"I can't remember what got said. I got on the motorway and went right through all the traffic, all through the lights, and went the long way. It took ages getting there."

She hadn't asked him any questions about what happened.

Her husband, who works for Auckland firm Helisika Helicopters, was not up to talking about the ordeal last night.

"He's not feeling the best at the moment," said Mrs Gribble." He's pretty worn out now. He's quite knackered ... I think he's quite shattered."

- NZ Herald

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