Chopper wreckage recovery attempt

By Matthew Backhouse, with Newstalk ZB

Northland pilot John 'Prickles' de Ridder (inset) was flying into fiery conditions when his helicopter crashed last night. Photo / SNPA Images/Petrina Hodgson
Northland pilot John 'Prickles' de Ridder (inset) was flying into fiery conditions when his helicopter crashed last night. Photo / SNPA Images/Petrina Hodgson

Work to recover the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed during a massive blaze in the Far North is set to begin later today.

Pilot John de Ridder and Department of Conservation worker William Macrae were killed when their helicopter crashed about 350m off the coast of the Karikari Peninsula late on Wednesday.

The Squirrel ZK-IMB helicopter had been assisting firefighters battling a massive blaze that destroyed at least three homes and sent residents scrambling for shelter.

The men's bodies were found midday Thursday and recovered late that evening.

The Civil Aviation Authority said a recovery barge was expected to reach the area after making the 12-hour journey from Paihia.

It'll be moved into the crash site at this afternoon's high tide.

A dive team from Paihia would make an initial dive before working with the barge crew and air crash safety investigators to determine best way to winch the wreckage from the water.

Safety Investigator Colin Grounsell thinks it could take up to three hours to get the wreckage safely on board.

The helicopter was submerged in about 7m of water.

Investigators were yesterday working to confirm details, including where the wreckage would be taken once recovered.

It hasn't yet been decided which port the wreckage will go to in the first instance, but it will eventually be trucked to secure storage in Auckland.

The weather is expected to be on the side of fire crews still working to contain the enormous Far North scrub fire today.

The National Rural Fire Authority has taken over the final stages of controlling the 120 hectare blaze on the Karikari Peninsula.

Incident controller Brian Jensen says the number of crews working on the 120 hectare fire was significantly reduced overnight.

Much of today will be spent pulling apart unburnt scrub to reduce fuel for the fire.

He says the weather is now cool and calm, and rain could be on the way.

"We're hopeful that the rain will arrive that's predicted for Sunday and should that happen then we'll have a good chance of really wrapping this fire up much more securely by early next week.''

Fighting the fire which may have been deliberately lit is a hard ask for locals who've lost two of their own.

Mr Jensen says the tragedy is at the front of everyone's minds.

"Yes, it has an impact on everyone but they know there's a job to be done here and we're endeavouring to focus on that so that many of the locals have the time and space they need.''

Meanwhile Far North Mayor Wayne Brown believes changes in the way the region is governed will help deal with a spate of suspicious fires.

There have been at least 14 of them in the area over the past two years, including the one at Karikari Peninsula this week.

Mr Brown says it's unfortunate it's taken such a loss to draw attention to the fires.

He says the region needs to work more closely together, under a unitary authority.


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