Environment Canterbury joins DoC in suspending use of Robinson helicopters after two men killed in Northland crash

Environment Canterbury is the latest organisation to suspend use of Robinson helicopters after the deaths of two men whose helicopter crashed in Northland on Monday.

The Department of Conservation this week decided to no longer use the helicopters, which have also been put on a Transport Accident Investigation Commission "watchlist".

On Wednesday Environment Canterbury also pulled the plug on the use of Robinsons.

The regional council's finance and corporate services' director Miles McConway said they wouldn't allow staff to fly in Robinsons while they remained on watch with the Civil Aviation Authority.

"Environment Canterbury undertakes a significant amount of helicopter work, often in testing terrain and conditions. We need to ensure that the safety of our staff is paramount."

Garden City Helicopters' group general manager, Simon Duncan, told the New Zealand Herald he had been contacted by EC and told it would no longer use Robinsons.

Garden City flew many civil servants for various roles, including those working for district health boards, ACC, the Ministry of Health and the police, but no other organisations were refusing to fly in Robinsons, Duncan said.

Yet.

"I think we're going to have a lot of Government departments overreacting."

He did not believe there was an issue with the Robinsons, which the company had flown for almost 30 years without mechanical incident.

Robinsons made up half the country's helicopter fleet and were the sole helicopters used by some small companies, which could put pressure on them if the public lost confidence.

If Robinsons were not used then older helicopters, such as the Hughes or JetRanger, would be the alternative, he said.

"They have very few modern models. They're 20 or 30 years old, so we'll be looking at technology much older."

In the Northland crash, Allan Jessop and Derek Hammond died when the Robinson 44 they were in crashed in Glenbervie Forest, north of Whangarei.

The forest is owned by global forest products company Rayonier and the crash victims were believed to have been contractors surveying the forest and were well-known in the forestry industry.

DoC said its decision followed the recent crash and the placing of Robinson helicopters on a Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) 'watchlist'.

DoC's health and safety director, Harry Maher, said the decision had been made to protect staff, including volunteers and contractors working directly for DoC.

"The safety of our people is paramount, so in light of the recent accident we are suspending the use of these helicopters for operations where DoC staff, volunteers and contractors are passengers."

Maher said DoC would liaise with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) during its investigation of this latest accident and review its position as further information from the CAAcame to hand.

Monday's crash brought the number of people killed in New Zealand crashes involving Robinson helicopters to 20 since 1996.

About 300 Robinson choppers are registered in New Zealand and the brand makes up 40 per cent of the nation's helicopter fleet.

Northland Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Pete Turnbull described seeing parts of the ill-fated helicopter in some of the region's most inhospitable terrain.

He said to the layperson it did not appear that anyone could have survived the crash.

"There was a tiny trickle of smoke coming out of the forest," he said.

"I could see a tail rotor and a tail boom skid and it looked badly damaged."

The crash comes only days after TAIC added Robinson Helicopters to its watchlist of safety concerns.

In a statement released last Thursday, TAIC said that, with the CAA, it had investigated 14 cases since 1996 where the inner part of a main rotor blade or rotor hub of Robinson choppers had bumped the main rotor drive shaft or "mast".

It said the accidents had claimed 18 lives.

- NZ Herald

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