Antarctica crash victims pronounced dead

Judge MacLean said it would be 'extraordinarily difficult', if not impossible, to recover the bodies from the mountain.
Judge MacLean said it would be 'extraordinarily difficult', if not impossible, to recover the bodies from the mountain.

Three Canadian men who were in a plane that crashed into the upper slopes of one of Antarctica's highest mountains have officially been pronounced dead by a New Zealand coroner.

Pilot Bob Heath, 55, first officer Mike Denton, 25, and engineer Perry Anderson, 36, were aboard the Twin Otter aircraft which smashed into the 4480-metre Mt Elizabeth, which is part of New Zealand's international territory, on January 23 this year.

They were travelling from the South Pole Station to Terra Nova Bay, where they were to assist an Italian research team.

Due to the extreme weather conditions and high altitude their bodies have never been recovered.

An inquest into their deaths was held before New Zealand's Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean in Auckland District Court today.

The hearing was live-streamed to the men's families in Canada as Judge MacLean determined they died of multiple injuries resulting from a high-speed crash into the side of the mountain.

The officer in charge of the search and rescue effort, Senior Sergeant Bruce Johnston, told the inquest searchers were not able to even see the site of the crash for several days due to poor weather before a Hercules plane spotted it.

"It was steeply angled into the snow. The cockpit was not visible and appeared to be deeply embedded in the snow. There were no signs of life in the aircraft," Mr Johnston said.

"It was obvious due to the nature of the impact into the mountain that the crash would not have been survivable."

On January 27, the weather improved sufficiently for a search and rescue team to be positioned on a ridge above the crash site and make its way down.

The searchers recovered some of the men's personal belongings, including Mr Heath's wallet and driver's licence, Mr Anderson's passport and Mr Denton's bag containing an airline ticket and a book with his name written in it.

Judge MacLean said it would be "extraordinarily difficult", if not impossible, to recover the bodies from the mountain.

He praised the efforts off the search and rescuers involved.

"It is clear that the recovery efforts were very dangerous - the personnel involved were at high altitude in extreme conditions," Judge MacLean said.

"I don't think it's putting it too highly to say they showed great personal courage to try and recover those bodies."

He said he had sufficient evidence before him to determine how the men died.

"In a very harsh and unforgiving environment an experienced pilot well used to the conditions in an apparently well maintained plane ... came to grief by impacting on the upper slopes on Mt Elizabeth in Antarctica.

"Without the benefit of a post-mortem the only thing that can be said about the cause of death is it is likely to be multiple injuries sustained when the aircraft slammed at speed into the slopes of Mt Elizabeth."

Judge MacLean extended his condolences to the men's families.

- APNZ

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