The firefighting pilot who escaped a helicopter crash unscathed says he's happy nobody was hurt and doesn't think mechanical failure or pilot error caused the crash.

Neal Andrews said he was grateful to be safe and to have helped the big firefighting effort in Marlborough this week.

A huge blaze tore across some 400ha yesterday but 60 firefighters and an "aerial assault" from helicopters and planes combined with light rain to suck the life out of the fire.

Mr Andrews, a pilot with Precision Helicopters in Blenheim, crashed in shallow water about 11am yesterday.


"I've been in the industry a long time. And things can go wrong and obviously it did go wrong yesterday," he told NZME. News Service.

Mr Andrews said he was counting his blessings and happy he helped save a house from the fire.

"My pride's hurt. My helicopter's written off ... the matter is we were working and we saved a house there and that was a bloody good feeling."

He also said he was grateful for support from his friends, clients and members of the community since the crash.

"No one was hurt, which is good," Mr Andrews added. "I really appreciate the support I've had throughout the country on this."

Photo / NZ Police
Photo / NZ Police

He said he wasn't able to reveal the cause of the crash just yet, as a formal investigation was underway.

"There wasn't a mechanical failure on the helicopter the way I see it. I pretty well know there wasn't ... and honestly it wasn't pilot error either."

It was earlier reported the helicopter encountered difficulty lifting water from a river with fast currents.


"I'm okay and it's not something you want to do every day of the week, crash a helicopter, but at the end of the day I'm okay," he said.

Some residents are re-entering their homes in the Christchurch suburb of Hei Hei as firefighters continue to dampen down areas razed by a large fire today.

Mr Andrews said he was glad the firefighters won the upper hand, with a little help from the weather.

He said the fire was "rampant" yesterday but high winds fuelling it had died down.

"The fire is pretty well controlled. We've still got one of our machines on, just doing support for the ground crew," he said this morning.

The pilot earned praise from the local fire chief.

"He's a friend and you really feel for him," said Richard 'Mac' McNamara, Marlborough Kaikoura Rural Fire Authority general manager.

"Neal was working for the community when this happened. My heart goes out to him and we'll catch up later in the day," Mr McNamara said.

Mr Andrews had helped the community many times before, he said,

"When we call him, he comes. And he's a regular for us."

He said Mr Andrews was "a good, safe pilot" but flying in conditions such as yesterday's could be treacherous.

Mr McNamara said the cost of hiring a helicopter for firefighting usually cost roughly $1500 to $3500 per hour.

Precision Helicopters chief pilot Matt Newton said Mr Andrews was about 3m above the river when he encountered trouble.

"Yeah, he just was loading the bucket out of the river and the river was flowing pretty fast and it pulled the bucket back and one of the ropes hooked around the back of his skid and he couldn't keep up with it," he told Radio New Zealand.