Just exactly what happened the day a Volcanic Air floatplane hit the historic Lakeland Queen on Lake Rotorua can now be revealed following the release of official documents. Zizi Sparks reports.
The pilot of the floatplane which hit the Lakeland Queen on Lake Rotorua was wearing headphones and appeared to have his head down moments before the two vessels collided.
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Before the crash the Lakeland Queen shipmaster sounded the vessel's horn five times in an unsuccessful attempt to warn the pilot and a crew member moved the craft's 32 passengers to the rear of the vessel in fear of the imminent collision.
More than 18 months after the incident, the reasons why it happened can now be revealed. They are outlined in documents obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post from Maritime New Zealand under the Official Information Act.
The Lakeland Queen and the Volcanic Air floatplane collided on May 30, 2018 about 8.30am. Afterwards, the Civil Aviation Authority and Maritime New Zealand gathered information and Volcanic Air carried out an internal investigation.
According to the investigation report by Maritime New Zealand, the master of the Lakeland Queen saw the floatplane taxiing out of the channel approaching the Lakeland Queen on the port side.
There was no communication between the two vessels and the master assumed the plane was going to take off.
They continued on a converging course so the master sounded the horn five times.
According to the report, the pilot was seen wearing headphones, appeared to have his head down in the cockpit and did not see the Lakeland Queen.
The plane wing and the starboard side of the vessel collided, the report said.
"Master said the pilot seemed unaware of the impact and the plane pivoted to starboard around the bow of the [ship]. The prop has then hit the rail of the bow. At this point, the pilot sat up and was visible to the master of the [ship]. The pilot has shut down the plane engine."
No one was injured.
The Maritime New Zealand investigation found the pilot was taxiing and had the engine running at 1000 rpm, above the usual 880 rpm taxiing level.
He looked down to adjust the engine and was affected by "flicker vertigo", in which the sun flickers through the propeller, creating a strobe effect.
"[The pilot} put sunglasses on and deviated ... to reduce [the] effect."
The pilot said he was looking at the gauges in the plane when the Lakeland Queen appeared out of the sun reflection.
After the crash, the plane was towed to Rotorua Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority was notified. The floatplane engine was also sent to the United States for an inspection.
The ship did not suffer structural damage but there was damage to its deck railings.
According to the report, since the incident, action has been taken to "improve communications with all stakeholders" on Lake Rotorua.
In an initial accident report, filed by the master on the day of the crash, he wrote that the crash happened when the 28.7m Lakeland Queen was returning from Sulphur Point during its breakfast cruise.
He wrote he had come to a complete stop and was blowing the horn "in the hope that [the pilot] would respond by altering his course".
"Because of our vessel's inability to make swift alterations due to depth of lake and size of our ship I started to go astern to avoid collision.
"Despite all attempts to alert the pilot and alter our course, impact was imminent."
The Rotorua Daily Post also requested communications related to the crash.
While aspects of these were redacted, in an email between Maritime New Zealand and Bay of Plenty Regional harbourmaster Peter Buell, Buell wrote: "That will add nicely to the tensions amongst the players on the Lakefront".
In the emails, a Maritime New Zealand investigator calls the case "unusual" as it was the first accident she knew of involving two commercial operators where one was a floatplane.
They also reveal the investigator requested a raft of documents from Volcanic Air and the Lakeland Queen including qualification and training details for the pilot and his cellphone records for the day of the crash.
An aircraft accident brief on the Civil Aviation Authority website also reveals further information about the pilot including that the 23-year-old had logged a total of 1031 flying hours, 33 of them in this type of plane.