A pilot who ditched his helicopter in a Northland bay has been slammed by crash investigators for a series of failings.

Chopper pilot Scott Finlayson, 45, ditched his Bell 206L-3 LongRanger helicopter off Bream Bay, 30km south of Whangarei Heads, after a experiencing major engine power reduction on January 20, 2011.

He did not have time to make an emergency radio call before he splashed down but his accident was witnessed by people on shore.

One witness scrawled a line in the sand to help aerial searchers find the downed aircraft and the pilot in the water was spotted by an RNZAF Orion.


Finlayson spent two hours treading water without a lifejacket before he was rescued.

He suffered mild hypothermia and minor injuries and was discharged from Whangarei Hospital hours later.

Now, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its findings into the crash.

While the report stops short of making any safety recommendations, it noted a number of key lessons to be learned from the incident.

"The pilot did not take appropriate survival precautions for a flight that was intended to be operated over water," the TAIC report says

"His rescue was greatly assisted by the accident being witnessed and by a favourable on-shore wind."

The cause of the reported engine power reduction was not determined.

The TAIC report said Finlayson should have provided a flight plan, worn a lifejacket given he was flying low over water, and activated the emergency locator transmitter and made an emergency radio call.

It also said pilots who frequently operated over water should undertake helicopter underwater escape training.