Crash victim's father: NZ 'unsafe'

Brad Coker died in the Fox Glacier plane crash in September 2010. Photo / supplied
Brad Coker died in the Fox Glacier plane crash in September 2010. Photo / supplied

The family of a British tourist killed when a skydiving plane crashed at Fox Glacier has launched an internet campaign claiming New Zealand is unsafe.

Chris Coker, whose 24-year-old son Bradley was one of nine people killed in New Zealand's worst air disaster for 17 years, said his son's death was "completely avoidable" and showed a lack of proper regulation and control.

Watch the Coker family video at the bottom of this story.

He was speaking out because he didn't want another parents to experience "a knock on the door at 5am" telling them their "beloved son" was dead.

Mr Coker has written an emotional letter to Prime Minister John Key begging for a review of aviation regulations, and launched a YouTube video and Facebook campaign critical of New Zealand safety standards.

Mr Coker told the Prime Minister that public and tourists in New Zealand were "not safe" and there was an overwhelming case for change in the way adventure sports are regulated.

Until action was taken, there was compelling evidence that young people should "think twice" before pursuing adventure activities in New Zealand.

The letter came as the Transport Accident Investigation Commission released its final report into the crash that claimed the lives of all nine people on board a Fletcher turboprop during take-off at Fox Glacier Airport.

Four foreign tourists, four skydive masters and their pilot died about 1.15pm on September 4, 2010, hours after the first Christchurch earthquake.

Witnesses saw the plane take off normally before pitching upward, performing a "wing-over" and plunging vertically into a field.

The report revealed the plane had been converted from a crop-duster to a skydiving plane only three months earlier by engineering company Super Air Limited.

It said the modification was "poorly managed" and the Civil Aviation Authority failed to detect discrepancies in documentation about the work.

Furthermore, the company operating the plane, Skydive NZ, had not completed weight and balance calculations before it entered service, meaning the plane was flown outside its loading limits every time it carried a full eight passengers.

The report also confirmed at least two of the skydive-masters had been taking controlled drugs and one had taken cannabis shortly before the flight. It called on the Government to introduce a rigorous drug and alcohol testing regime.

Elizabeth Coker, Bradley's sister and a UK lawyer, added that it was "natural" to expect safety and legal standards in Commonwealth countries to match those of the UK and this was not the case.

"You cannot sue for negligence in New Zealand and there is no criminal offence of corporate manslaughter," she wrote. "In our view, this has had the effect of lowering safety standards in New Zealand.

"There is no ultimate sanction, either financial or criminal, on companies who ignore their duty to protect the public.

"This accident report backs our view that the legal system in New Zealand is weighted entirely against victims of accidents, and indeed the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office website warns UK citizens of this in giving startling advice about travelling to New Zealand."

It is at least the second such letter sent to Mr Key.

The father of British tourist Emily Jordan, killed riverboarding in Queenstown in 2009, sent him a "heartfelt" letter calling for changes to New Zealand's adventure tourism industry.

Mad Dog River Boarding was fined $66,000 and ordered to pay $80,000 reparation to the Jordan family after admitting two Health and Safety in Employment Act charges.

Mr Key ordered a wide-ranging review of the industry and clamp down on "out of control" operators.

This afternoon he confirmed he had received Mr Coker's letter and said he expected to reply.

His condolences went to the families of the plane crash victims but he rejected the claim New Zealand was too dangerous to visit and defended the safety of the adventure tourism industry.

He said separate reviews into adventure tourism and the Civil Aviation Authority had resulted in changes that may have prevented the Fox Glacier crash.

The majority of adventure tourism operators were safe but said there was always some risk involved in adventure tourism, he said.

"That's true in every country in the world. If you throw yourself out of a plane or off a bridge, there is an element of risk there. But our operators are good operators. I've instituted changes which will ensure they will be even safer and I think you can take comfort in the fact that for the most part they should be okay."

The New Zealanders killed in the Fox Glacier crash were pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, from Queenstown; Skydive New Zealand director Rod Miller, 55, from Greymouth; Australian-born Motueka man Adam Bennett, 47; New Plymouth man Michael Suter, 32; and Christopher McDonald, 62, from Mapua.

The other tourists who died were Irishman Patrick Byrne, 26; Australian man Glen Bourke, 18, and German woman Annita Kirsten, 23.

The Coker family video:

Link: "NZ Tourist Safety" Facebook page

Full letter from Chris Coker to Prime Minister John Key

"Nothing you can do will bring back my son Bradley, who was killed in the prime of his life whilst enjoying a holiday in your country, and no amount of compensation could make up for his death.

"Bradley's death was completely avoidable and needless. The circumstances that led to his death are a shocking catalogue of behaviour that would be regarded as negligent in every civilised country in the world. This accident is, tragically, the latest in many similar events in your country and amply demonstrates the lack of proper regulation and control and the need for urgent and fundamental reform in the way this kind of activity in New Zealand is monitored, controlled and regulated.

"I urge you to act in the best interests of the thousands of young people who come to New Zealand every year to enjoy what you have to offer in such a beautiful country. Until you do act, the beauty of your country will continue to disguise a regulatory and legal culture that makes the public and visitors highly vulnerable and puts their lives in significant danger.

"When an accident happens in New Zealand, the law is not there to support you. There is not a single parent anywhere in the world who would look at the case of the death of our son and not find our treatment at the hands of the authorities and the legal system derisory.

"Until action is taken to ensure the regulation, inspection and control of adventure sports, particularly involving aircraft, is radically tightened, I feel it my duty to advise people thinking of visiting New Zealand for adventure sport to think twice.

"My whole family owes a duty to other families around the world to warn them of these dangers. I do not wish another parent to have my experience of a knock on the door at 5am telling you that your beloved son is dead.

"The whole world appreciates the focus that has been required of your Government to recover from the terrible events at Christchurch.

"But the year before the earthquake - in June 2010 - a national review in your country of the adventure tourism industry found that 'regulatory safety standards applicable to commercial adventure aviation were designed for recreational (non-commercial) activity and did not provide sufficient assurance that commercial activities involving inherent risk are safely managed'. And yet there was no urgency on the part of the Government to effect the radical changes in regulation, monitoring and control that would have saved the lives of my son and his fellow tourists.

"A new civil aviation rule, effective from 1st May 2012, requires skydiving and other adventure aviation operators to hold a CAA Operator Certificate. This does not do anything to strengthen monitoring and control of the regulations, which might have saved Bradley's life. Every day that radical improvements in the enforcement of safety in New Zealand are delayed puts the lives of more tourists at very great risk.''

- additional reporting Claire Trevett and Hana Garrett-Walker

- APNZ

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