Fox Glacier chopper crash company grounded

By Kurt Bayer, Jessica McCarthy

Wreckage of a Alpine Adventures Scenic Flights Eurocopter 6 " Squirrel " helicopter at Fox Glacier.
Wreckage of a Alpine Adventures Scenic Flights Eurocopter 6 " Squirrel " helicopter at Fox Glacier.

The helicopter company involved in a horror chopper crash at Fox Glacier that killed seven people has been grounded over safety concerns six months later.

Queenstown pilot Mitch Gameren, 28, died alongside six tourists when the Alpine Adventures' Squirrel helicopter he was flying on a scenic trip plunged into a deep crevasse in the glacier on November 21.

Now, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended the Air Operating Certificate (AOC) of Alpine Adventures managing director James Patrick Scott, grounding his 15-strong helicopter fleet.

CAA's director of Civil Aviation, Graeme Harris said the move comes under the provisions of Section 17 of the Civil Aviation Act, while the CAA investigates "concerns it has about the safety of the operation".

Mr Harris said the suspension action was taken in the public interest while his doubts about the safety of the operation were resolved.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission is investigating the crash tragedy.

Its report is unlikely to be completed before June next year.

Mr Harris said the suspension doesn't pre-determine the outcome of the investigation in any way.

Barry Waterland, organisational systems manager for Mr Scott, said the suspension came into effect at 4pm last Friday.

Helicopter pilot Mitch Gameren , killed in a crash at Fox Glacier Photo sourced from his open Facebook page :
Helicopter pilot Mitch Gameren , killed in a crash at Fox Glacier Photo sourced from his open Facebook page :

The company is now working closely with CAA to "resolve the situation and put James P. Scott back in the air again", he said.

Any bookings affected by the grounded have been picked up by other operators, Mr Waterland said.

There were no survivors in the November crash.

Mr Gameren died along with tourists Andrew Virco, 50, and his partner Katharine Walker, 51, of Cambridge, England; Nigel Edwin Charlton, 66, and his wife Cynthia, 70; and Australians Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29.

Bad weather meant it took several days to retrieve the bodies and some of the wreckage from the crash site.

Last month, further wreckage was recovered, including belly panels, seats and fragmented parts of the helicopter.

The wreckage is now being examined at TAIC's technical facility in Wellington to try and work out what caused the crash.

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 30 years and boasts "a team of extremely experienced professional pilots and ground crew dedicated to aircraft safety and customer service".

The company has had CAA 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.

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

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.

Both the CAA and Alpine Adventures refused to say exactly what the safety concerns are.
Mr Waterland said the reasons were "very confidential".

Today he has been compiling a letter for the CAA outlining various "scenarios" for the organisation to assess.

"Hopefully then we can start up some meaningful conversations and dialogue with them to overcome the issues they have identified," Mr Waterland said.

He said the suspension had come as a shock and he hoped the helicopters would be back in the air by the end of the week.

- NZ Herald

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