The pilot of a helicopter which crashed into the ocean off Karikari Bay had more than 17,000 hours of flying experience, an inquest has been told.

The inquiry into the deaths of pilot John De Ridder and Department of Conservation employee William Macrae during an attempted fire rescue began today.

Mr De Ridder had been using a monsoon bucket to try and help put out a bush fire when he got the call there were people on the beach who needed rescuing, so he removed the bucket and brought Mr Macrae with him.

Salt Air chief executive Grant Harnish said other employees looked up to him as he had so much experience and he wouldn't have flown into the smoke if he hadn't thought it was an emergency.

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The inquest continues.