Crash parts buried in paddock

By Tui Bromley

Annika Kirsten died in the Fox Glacier plane crash. Photo / Supplied
Annika Kirsten died in the Fox Glacier plane crash. Photo / Supplied

Parts of a skydiving plane that crashed at Fox Glacier nearly two years ago, killing all nine on board, were buried in a paddock soon after at the direction of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

Aviation expert Barry Payne, who was commissioned to supply an independent report on the crash, told an inquest in Greymouth today that he had concluded the two fundamental causes of the crash were an incorrectly set stabilator trim (tail flap), and the plane being out of balance due to a load shift with the passengers.

Four overseas tourists and five Skydive NZ staff members died in the fiery crash on September 4, 2010.

Mr Payne was recalled to the stand today and questioned at length by Garth Galloway, who is appearing on behalf on Skydive NZ's co-owner John Kerr.

The other partner in the company, Greymouth man Rod Miller, died in the crash.

Mr Galloway asked Mr Payne whether there were other possible causes, including a broken control stick, but Mr Payne said he had not physically examined the stick because TAIC investigators had directed Mr Kerr to have parts of the wreckage, including the stick, buried in a paddock at the end of the airstrip a couple of days after the crash.

Mr Payne accepted that photographs of the wreckage showed that the stick had worked free of the block, but he put that down to the extreme heat it had been subjected to in the fire when the plane burst into flames on impact.

The inquest also heard from Skydive NZ tandem master Dean Thomas, that a last-minute decision put Mr Miller on the fatal flight.

Mr Thomas had made five tandem jumps that day and was going to sit out a sixth while Mr Miller and another tandem master, Greg Rowan, took up two clients who had turned up unexpectedly at the airstrip.

However, minutes before that jump Mr Miller decided that he would sit it out and take the next flight instead. Mr Thomas battery-started the plane prior to the fatal flight but did not observe the take-off.

An unusual motor noise caused him to look skyward.

"It was revving high. I thought 'far out, he's putting the pressure on ... doing something very different ... radical."

As the pilot struggled to gain control of the machine he could hear someone saying, "no, no, no ..." then the plane crashed out of his sight behind a hangar.

Mr Thomas said the pilot, Queenstown-based Chaminda Senadhira, 33, was highly competent and trustworthy and Skydive NZ was very safety conscious and did not cut corners.

Patrick Byrne, 26, from Ireland, Glenn Bourke, 18, from Australia, Annita Kirsten, 23, from Germany, and Brad Coker, 24, from England, and four skydive masters Adam Bennett, 47, Michael Suter, 32, Christopher McDonald, 62, and Mr Miller, 55, died in the crash, along with Mr Senadhira.

The inquest continues.

- Greymouth Star

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