Chopper crash: Tourists 4 Brits, 2 Australians - police

The wreckage of the helicopter. Photo / NZ Police
The wreckage of the helicopter. Photo / NZ Police

Police have confirmed the six passengers in today's helicopter crash on Fox Glacier were foreign tourists.

They say two were from Australia and four were from the United Kingdom.

Police have been liaising with the embassies of the countries to ensure the next of kin were advised of the situation.

It was earlier confirmed that all seven people on board the helicopter - six tourists and one pilot - died.

A paramedic and members of an alpine cliff rescue team were winched down to the crash site in a heavily crevassed area halfway up the glacier early this afternoon, but found no survivors. There were six overseas passengers and one pilot on board.

Inspector John Canning said the crash scene was covered in heavy cloud and a recovery is "not going to be easy" and was likely to take days.

The crash site is about 2500 feet up the glacier.

The crash debris is spread over several hundred metres in deep ice crevices. A dark scorch mark is clearly visible on the glacier over a wide area where the helicopter impacted and wreckage wedged between house-sized blocks of ice.

That will make recovery efforts extremely difficult.

Weather conditions looking towards Fox Glacier today. Photo / Greymouth Star
Weather conditions looking towards Fox Glacier today. Photo / Greymouth Star

Police are currently planning for a recovery operation tomorrow and will update the situation in the morning.

The helicopter is believed to be a six-passenger Eurocopter "Squirrel" operated by south Westland firm Alpine Adventures.

A man answering calls at the company, home to Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Heliservices, Tekapo Helicopters and Kaikoura Helicopters, said the downed helicopter was one of theirs but wouldn't comment further.

Police are co-ordinating the recovery and scene examination and are working to locate the relatives of those on board.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Vince Cholewa confirmed earlier they were alerted to the incident at 10.55am after the company told them an emergency location beacon had activated.

Four rescue helicopters - two from Christchurch, one from Greymouth and one from Fox Glacier - were sent to the small tourist settlement 150 kilometres south of Hokitika, Cholewa said.

The West Coast NZCC Rescue Helicopter and the Christchurch-based Canterbury Westpac Rescue Helicopter both arrived in the Fox Glacier region shortly before noon.

Emergency services gather at the Fox Glacier Emergency Services Centre. Photo / Greymouth Star
Emergency services gather at the Fox Glacier Emergency Services Centre. Photo / Greymouth Star

Police also responded but it was understood access to the crash scene was tricky in difficult conditions.

Weather analysts said it was a wet day around Fox Glacier and conditions could affect visibility.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said weather conditions in the area were "terrible".

It had rained solidly overnight, and for much of this morning, and low cloud made for "poor visibility".

"It wouldn't be a good day to be flying helicopters," Kokshoorn said.

"Everything is against a rescue [mission]. It will be cold up there. And the problem is amplified by the cloud cover".

He was shocked to hear of the downed helicopter.

The area where the crash happened was "unforgiving", he said. He understood the helicopter went down in a heavily crevassed area and said flying in that area was "very, very tricky".

Conditions were starting to clear just before 4pm, Kokshoorn said.

The investigation into the crash is being led by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

Spokesman Peter Northcote said two or three investigators would be at the crash site from this evening, and a fourth person to join them tomorrow.

Alpine Adventures operates Hughes 500C and Hughes 500D four-passenger helicopters as well as Eurocopter "Squirrel" six-passenger helicopters, according to its website.

It has been flying for 20 years and is believed to run 11 modern turbine helicopters.

"Alpine Adventures is proud to have a team of extremely experienced professional pilots and ground crew dedicated to aircraft safety and customer service," its website said.

An Alpine Adventures Scenic Flights Eurocopter 6 "Squirrel" helicopter. The company operates scenic flights over Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Photo / Supplied
An Alpine Adventures Scenic Flights Eurocopter 6 "Squirrel" helicopter. The company operates scenic flights over Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier. Photo / Supplied

They employed nine pilots and up to 17 ground crew, office staff and management, with each pilot chosen and trained by the company's managing director, James Scott, who had over 30 years of experience operating helicopters, the website said.

"Each ground crew member is also fully trained to a high standard of customer service, including an in-depth knowledge of all operational safety procedures.

"We have Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand approval to trade as Alpine Adventures, Fox Glacier Heliservices, Franz Josef Heliservices, Tekapo Helicopters and Kaikoura Helicopters under the provisions of Civil Aviation Rule Part 119 to perform air operations, etc."

In June, a Hughes 369 helicopter owned by the firm rolled over when taking off in West Coast mountain country.

Mr Scott said at the time he didn't know what caused the crash.

The helicopter left from Franz Josef Glacier with two hunters on board. It crashed near the Poerua Glacier, in the Westland National Park, trapping the 24-year-old pilot in the cockpit.

All three on board were taken to hospital. Mr Scott said at the time the pilot would need surgery, while the passengers were relatively unscathed.

Police at the scene of a fatal accident at the Fox Glacier airfield in South Westland in 2010. Photo / Supplied
Police at the scene of a fatal accident at the Fox Glacier airfield in South Westland in 2010. Photo / Supplied

A witness to the aftermath of that crash said the helicopter crashed on a bank of tussock and looked like it had "fallen off a hill".


Several helicopter companies run tourist charters to Fox Glacier.

The region is a popular destination, with tens of thousands of tourists converging there every year to visit one of New Zealand's natural wonders.

Five years ago nine people died when a plane full of skydivers crashed not long after take-off at Fox Glacier.

A review into the crash investigation released last month by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission found the cause might never be known.

The original investigators found the crash probably happened because the plane was out of balance and became airborne too soon, but the review has cast doubt on that.

The plane crashed during take-off on September 4, 2010, the same day as the first Christchurch earthquake.

Four tourists, four Skydive NZ dive masters and the pilot died.

In 2008, three people survived a plane crash at Fox Glacier.

A Cessna went down trying to land at the airstrip leaving the pilot trapped briefly. Two passengers managed to get out of the wreckage.

All three were taken to hospital.

- NZME.

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