Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Dead pilot 'loved his work'

Pilot Mark Didsbury moved from the Wairarapa to Taupo recently to fly for Helisika. Photo / Sean Andrews
Pilot Mark Didsbury moved from the Wairarapa to Taupo recently to fly for Helisika. Photo / Sean Andrews

The pilot of a newly registered helicopter which crashed in a remote valley near Turangi had been flying for only a couple of years but was "not green", his brother says.

Mark Didsbury, 39, was found dead near the wreckage of the Robinson R66 helicopter in the remote Oamaru Valley yesterday morning.

He was reported missing on Saturday after he failed to return from a job dropping off hunters in the bush.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating the cause of the crash.

The R66, a relatively new model helicopter, was registered to Taupo-based company Helisika in December last year.

Mark Didsbury had been flying helicopters for only a couple of years, his brother Guy said.

He had recently moved from Wairarapa to Taupo to fly for Helisika, where his main job was to take hunters and fishers up rivers.

"He'd done a lot of shearing and just got into the helicopter thing and was absolutely loving it, so it's a real shame," Guy Didsbury said.

"He probably wouldn't be classed as an experienced pilot but certainly not green either."

Mr Didsbury said his brother was a good man who was hard-working, kind and generous.

The news had been "a bit of a whirlwind" for the family, and Mark's long-term girlfriend was very upset.

"He will leave a big hole, that's for sure. He touched a lot of people - there's been a huge number of people coming around today and ringing."

Asked if he was worried about the R66 being a relatively new helicopter, he said: "We don't know too much about helicopters so no, we didn't have too many concerns."

The Robinson R66 is similar to the Robinson R44 but has a turbine engine and a wider airframe, allowing it to carry five people including the pilot.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mike Richards could not confirm yesterday when the R66 was certified to fly in New Zealand nor how many there were in the country.

He said all helicopters had to be certified in New Zealand, independently of other countries, to make sure they were suited to local conditions.

The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States granted certification to the R66 in February 2011. Helisika said on its website that its R66 was registered in December last year The company was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Police had initially been unsure whether Mark Didsbury had survived the crash.

Inspector Andy Brill of police northern communications said a rescue helicopter crew spotted the wreckage in a steep, bushy area about 7pm on Saturday.

A crew member was winched down to the wreckage, but with night approaching and fuel running low, the search was called off.

Six police officers and a police dog resumed the search yesterday morning and Mr Didsbury's body was found about 50m from the wreckage at about 11.30am.

His body was to be airlifted from the area yesterday afternoon.APNZ


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