Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

CAA files charges against Fox Glacier helicopter crash company

Alpine Adventures has been charged with health and safety offenses over the helicopter crash at Fox Glacier last year. Photo / File
Alpine Adventures has been charged with health and safety offenses over the helicopter crash at Fox Glacier last year. Photo / File

The helicopter company involved in a chopper crash at Fox Glacier that killed seven people has been charged with health and safety offences.

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.

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

Helicopter pilot Mitch Gameren was one of seven people killed with the helicopter crashed in November. Photo / Facebook
Helicopter pilot Mitch Gameren was one of seven people killed with the helicopter crashed in November. Photo / Facebook

Today, the CAA confirmed that charges have been filed.

"CAA respects the judicial process and will not make further comment until the matter is concluded," a spokesman added.

CAA's director of Civil Aviation, Graeme Harris said the suspension came 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.

The CAA confirmed that Alpine Adventures' owner James Patrick Scott and organisational systems manager Barry Waterland have been charged under health and safety legislation.

The charges have been laid at Greymouth District Court and the case is scheduled to call on July 12.

Mr Waterland today declined to comment on the advice of his lawyer.

However, he said that Mr Scott was this morning at CAA's headquarters discussing the developments.

There were no survivors in the November crash.

Wreckage is removed from Fox Glacier.
Wreckage is removed from Fox Glacier.

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.

In April, 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.

- NZ Herald

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