Tourists stable after Otago plane crash that killed pilot

By Patrice Dougan, Hamish McNeilly

The pilot was taking two American tourists on a Lord of the Rings scenic flight when the plane crashed.  Photo / Southern District Police
The pilot was taking two American tourists on a Lord of the Rings scenic flight when the plane crashed. Photo / Southern District Police

Two American tourists are now in a stable condition in hospital following a light plane crash in Central Otago yesterday, which claimed the life of the pilot.

The Queenstown man was taking the two tourists, understood to be aged in their 30s, on a Lord of the Rings scenic flight when the crash took place just north of Poolburn Reservoir.

An emergency beacon on the Glenorchy Air Piper Cherokee was activated about 3.40pm and emergency services scrambled to the scene, 20km east of Alexandra.

The male and female passengers were flown by the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter to Dunedin Hospital in a serious condition.

Police named the tourists as Sarah and Eric Hoffman of Houston, Texas.The couple, in their 30s were both in Dunedin Public Hospital, where their condition was listed as stable.

The name of the male pilot would be released once next of kin had been notified, Senior Sergeant Ian Kerrisk, of Alexandra, said.

Investigations were set to resume at the crash site this morning, with investigators from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) expected to examine the scene.

Conditions were fine at the time of the crash, police said last night.

Glenorchy Air chief pilot Robert Rutherford confirmed the flight was on a Lord of the Rings tour at the time of the crash and said "we are waiting to get all the information before we talk to the media".

"We still don't know what happened ... we know there are some injuries but we are still waiting to hear the final details," he said.

"As you can imagine, we are under a huge amount of stress."

The company's Lord of the Rings tour -- which costs $380 a passenger -- includes a visit to the reservoir, which was depicted as "Rohan country" in the popular trilogy.

"This flight includes approximately two hours on the ground at Poolburn, there is a walk from the landing strip to view the scenery and have a close look at the sites of the filming. Your pilot will tell you all about the making of the Trilogy as you go," the company's website says.

The website says Glenorchy Air is a family-owned business operating out of Queenstown Airport, and "we have a 100 per cent safety record".

"No one flying with us since we started our business 21 years ago has been injured."

A Piper Cherokee with the same registration was steered off the side of the grass airstrip to avoid overrunning the runway at Elfin Bay, Lake Wakatipu, on April 5, 2007. The pilot and two passengers were uninjured when the aircraft received moderate damage after striking a fence, prompting a TAIC investigation.

- Otago Daily Times

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 29 Dec 2014 06:39:19 Processing Time: 671ms