Aviation businesses face an uncertain wait and the prospect of financial losses after the grounding of the helicopter model involved in a fatal crash last week.

This is the largest grounding of an aircraft in the country's history.

Robinson R44 helicopters using the rotor blade type involved in a fatal crash near Queenstown have been grounded in New Zealand and Australia until further notice.

On Saturday, Civil Aviation Authority director Graeme Harris grounded all Robinson R44 series helicopters fitted with a C016 7 Dash 7 main rotor blade until further notice as a safety precaution. Australia's aviation safety body followed suit.


The country's best known Robinson helicopter operator, Simon Spencer Bower, of Wanaka, said he had never had any reason to question the safety of the blade on his helicopters.

''No, not at all. It's a very unusual one.''

James Patterson Gardner, 18, and Steve Combe, 42, were found dead at the wreckage of the Robinson R44 they had been flying in remote bush in the Lochy Valley area, in the Eyre Mountains southwest of Queenstown, 90 minutes after the chopper was reported overdue.

Both men worked for Queenstown helicopter company Over the Top.

Mr Spencer Bower told the Otago Daily Times yesterday he had two Robinson helicopters fitted with the blade and they were ''on the ground at the moment''.

Although he had owned Robinson helicopters for 15 years, Mr Spencer Bower said he was not an engineer and had no knowledge of potential issues with the blade.

However, he respected the system that led to the aircraft being grounded.

''It doesn't matter if it's a Boeing 747 or a little helicopter. If they find a defect that they think could affect the rest of the world's machinery, they sometimes do this and it keeps everyone safe.


''It's just a very good system to try and make sure no one gets into trouble.''

Mr Spencer Bower said the blade in question was the latest model. Helicopters with earlier model blades were not affected by the grounding.

He had other aircraft that allowed him to continue operating.

''It's just an inconvenience, but I'm sure they will sort it out sooner rather than later.''

Nationally, about 80 Robinson R44s are affected. A total of 184 Robinson R44 aircraft are recorded on the New Zealand Civil Aviation register.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission general manager Peter Northcote said a team of investigators from the commission and two from the Civil Aviation Authority, supported by a helicopter and its pilot, completed the recovery of wreckage on Saturday.

The wreckage was to be transported to the commission's Wellington technical facility for further examination.

On Saturday, Mr Northcote said commission investigators were to begin interviewing representatives of the helicopter company yesterday. The commission supported the CAA's grounding directive.

''The commission also reinforces CAA's caution against jumping to the conclusion that blade failure was the cause or a factor in this accident in what are still early days of the inquiry.''

A Wanaka engineer spoken to by the ODT yesterday said the type of helicopter affected was more common in the North Island.

Steve Nicholson, of SCN Helicopters in Plimmerton, near Wellington, has two Robinson R44s - one with the Dash 7 blade, which has been grounded, and another with a different blade, which was unaffected.

Mr Nicholson said he was expecting a long wait for information on the grounding.

''I can't envisage anything happening in the next month.

''Luckily, we have two so one can keep going. It's certainly going to put a lot of pressure on everything else to keep things ticking over financially.''

Mr Nicholson thought compensation was unlikely for business owners affected by the grounding.

John Hobday, of Rotor and Wing Maintenance in Taupo, said several of his clients had been looking to lease other helicopters ''to fill the gaps'' while their Robinson R44s were grounded.

Tears for lost mate

Mal Law fought back tears describing how the helicopter crash near Queenstown on Thursday made a tough day even tougher.

Excruciating knee pain last Thursday forced the Wanaka charity runner to abandon part of his mission - to run 50 mountain marathons in 50 days.

On day 14, he accepted he would have to climb the peaks at walking pace and not complete the full marathon distance.

His assault on Ben Lomond on Friday was made doubly hard after good friend and fellow runner Steve Combe was killed the previous day.

''He [Combe] was our leader for the day for Monday.

''He's just an absolutely wonderful, wonderful human being who was a massive supporter of this project.''

Mr Law started to say it was inconceivable his friend would not be there today - but broke off, pointing to the sky.

''He is - he's going to be here.''

Mr Law is buoyed by the fact the High Five O challenge has raised more than $330,000 for the Mental Health Foundation.

His story's an inspiration for many, the challenge drawing support from around New Zealand and overseas.

Mr Law said he thought his body would have held up better.

''It's massively frustrating because after two years of intense training with not a single injury and very early on it lets me down.

''That's OK - I've got to just put one foot in front of the other, keep plodding, revise plans as we go, and do something worthwhile each day.''

Now, the focus is on the big picture.

''My pride's a temporary thing,'' he said with a grin.

''My pride will heal in time.''