A memorial honouring the lives of three policemen killed in a helicopter crash in Franz Josef Glacier 26 years ago has been unveiled.
Family members of the three men and survivors of the crash gathered with police from across the country for the unveiling of the memorial stone outside the police station yesterday.
The policemen were part of a celebrity team running a leg of the 'Copper for Charity' relay event, raising money for Cot Death New Zealand and other charities.
Inspector Tony Lynch and Senior Constable Bob Krom of Christchurch, and Constable Doug Dowie of Dunedin were killed when the helicopter crashed in thick bush near Lake Wombat on October 23, 1986.
Two other officers, Senior Constable Keith De Dulin of Christchurch, known for his television segment 'Constable Keith and Sniff' on What Now?, and Constable Matt Scully of Invercargill, plus the pilot Trevor Small were seriously injured in the crash.
Former Whataroa policeman Ian Price, now a community constable in Whangaparaoa, was on duty at the time of the accident and recalled the day of the crash.
"I, along with the township, was very excited to see the coppers come through South Westland. Their overnighter in Franz Josef was meant to be a highlight."
Mr Price said he had felt a burden from the day.
"I arranged for a quick glacier flight as a way of saying 'thanks'. The turn of events that followed can't be explained with words."
He said the familiar 'whoop whoop' of the helicopter returning down the glacier valley was followed by the "undeniable" sound of a crash.
"And then, nothing. Silence. This noise is not forgotten. Panic was next to follow."
Together with local national park staff he combed the bush for 40 minutes for sign of the wreckage.
"The West Coast bush had swallowed it."
They eventually found it and transferred the survivors to hospital.
"We had five of our finest on board. The subsequent days were full of questions. It doesn't matter how often you go over it in your head, nothing changes."
Mr Price said the unveiling of the memorial yesterday signalled the "closure of a chapter" in his book.
"This tragic loss will never be forgotten and this memorial will live forever."
Another former Whataroa policeman, Paul Gurney, who instigated the memorial, returned from the Chatham Islands to South Westland for the day.
"I hope that this memorial will ensure that both the police force and the local community will know this piece of history," Mr Gurney said.
- The Hokitika Guardian