Prime Minister John Key has paid a personal tribute to one of two men who died in a helicopter crash near Queenstown yesterday.
James Louis Patterson Gardner, 18, of Queenstown, and Stephen Anthony Nicholson Combe, 42, of Wanaka, were found dead at the scene of the crash 90 minutes after the chopper was reported overdue.
Wreckage of the Robinson 44, operated by Queenstown-based Over the Top Helicopters, was located in remote bush in the Lochy Valley area, in the Eyre Mountains southwest of Queenstown, shortly after 4pm, police said.
Mr Patterson Gardner was the son of Over the Top chief executive Louisa Patterson, who has operated the company for more than 26 years without accident.
"We would like to express our deepest condolences to friends and families of both members on board and are devastated by the loss of such valued and highly regarded team members," she said.
"We would like to sincerely thank the emergency services for their incredible effort and assistance."
Mr Patterson Gardner knew Mr Key and had posted to his Facebook page a photo of them at the driving range overlooking Queenstown.
Last night, Mr Key paid tribute to Mr Patterson Gardner.
"It was a privilege to meet James on a number of occasions. He was a fine young man. It will be devastating for the family and my heart goes out to them."
Mr Combe was born in South Africa and raised in Britain. He was married with two young boys.
He was a former British Royal Marine captain and served in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Basra, retiring after three months in Iraq in 2003 with the 847 Naval Air Squadron.
In 2012, he was given a safety accolade from the New Zealand Helicopter Association.
Detective Sergeant Brian Cameron of Queenstown said it was too early to speculate on the possible causes of the crash.
"Police are working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission in order to determine what has occurred."
Staff from both agencies were due to arrive in Queenstown this morning to conduct a detailed scene examination.
The deaths have been referred to the coroner.
- additional reporting Otago Daily Times