It could be 18 months before the investigation into what caused Saturday's Fox Glacier helicopter crash is concluded.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) communications manager Peter Northcote said a team of four, including two investigators, a helicopter engineering expert and himself are on the ground.

They are being supported by Wellington headquarters staff.

With bad weather hampering the recovery operation today, TAIC staff are continuing their evidence gathering and formal interviews, including talks with the helicopter operators and other chopper firms in the area.


They will also establish the aircraft's maintenance history, contact the manufacturer, and speak to people connected with pilot Mitchell Paul Gameren in order to "build a solid evidential base" for the inquiry.

"It's still very early days to know what technical and analytical challenges lie ahead but we aim for an average [inquiry] duration of 18 months," said Mr Northcote.

"Our job is to gather the evidence and put it in front of the commissioner. It's their job to make those findings."

If any of the evidence TAIC finds points to an issue that needs to be urgently addressed, it can make urgent safety recommendations.

TAIC is working with the recovery team to plan how the visible wreckage can be secure for scene examinations, before its eventual removal.

Along with police, they are also planning a drone aerial survey once the weather lifts.

Tributes flow in for victims

Four Britons, two Australians, and local pilot Mitch Gameren died when the Alpine Adventures helicopter crashed into a deep crevasse in the glacier on the South Island West Coast glacier on Saturday.

Family and colleagues of the tourists killed in the crash have voiced their devastation at the loss of loved ones.

For some, the holiday was meant to be the "trip of a lifetime" but now family on the other side of the world were mourning the deaths of the four British tourists.

Fox Glacier crash: The victims

Katharine Walker, 51, and 50-year-old Andrew Virco was among the victims.

Walker's brother, Steve Marshall, told the Sunday Times his sister and Virco were on a "trip of a lifetime" to celebrate their 50th birthdays, and had tried to take the helicopter trip on Friday but bad weather stopped them doing so.

He described Dr Walker as a devoted mother to her 22-year-old daughter, Rebecca. And he also said Mr Virco was a "wonderful person".

Husband-and-wife Nigel and Cynthia Charlton were
Husband-and-wife Nigel and Cynthia Charlton were "loved by family and friends near and far". Photo / Facebook

According to the Guardian, a spokesman for Dr Walker's employers Cambridge University Hospitals said: "Everyone at the hospital is devastated by the news and our thoughts go out to Kath's family at this very sad time.

"Kath was a much respected member of staff who had worked at Addenbrooke's for 23 years. We know many of our staff are going to be hit hard by this tragic news and we will be offering additional support for them."

Ms Walker's daughter Rebecca Walker, 22, told the BBC that her mother had a "special spin on life".

"She worked hard and she played hard. She affected so many people in so many good ways."

She said New Zealand had been a dream holiday for her mother and Mr Virco and they had planned it for a long time.

"They do holidays but this was the big one... they had waited for," she told the BBC.

"New Zealand was her dream... It was their celebration together."

Rebecca Walker said her mother was "everything".

"You just walked through town and everybody would be like 'hi, hi'. I couldn't go shopping without her seeing someone she knew. Cambridge is a big place but she affected so many people.

"Not having her here is just going to break so many people. It hasn't sunk in yet."

Mr Virco, an award-winning photographer, was "amazing", according to Rebecca Walker.
"He took me into his world," she said.

"He treated me like his daughter and you can't say much more than that. He's going to be missed."

Husband-and-wife Nigel, 66, and 70-year-old Cynthia Charlton, also known as Helen, also perished in the crash, along with Sovannmony Leang and Josephine Gibson from Australia and Mr Gameren, who was 28.

The Charlton's son and daughter declined to speak to the Herald today but issued a statement through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK.

"Our family is deeply saddened by the tragic news," said the statement from the Charlton's daughter Vicky Charlton Evans.

She said the couple were also survived by three grandchildren and loved by extended family and friends.

"They were very adventurous when it came to travel and this holiday was to be their last big adventure together," the statement said.

"None of us were expecting their adventure to continue in the way that it will. We are grateful that they remain travelling together but heartbroken that their new itinerary started the way that it did.

"In light of all the recent atrocities that we hear of from across the world we are grateful that our grief is something that can be managed with reasoning and understanding. Our hearts go out to all those having to deal with different types of grief to ours."

The family said the British Consul in New Zealand were keeping them well informed of the recovery operation.

"We would wish to send our gratitude to the brave teams making the recovery efforts and understand the need to consider their own safety above all else," their statement said.

"We would also wish to send our condolences to the families of all those lost in this tragic accident."

Police confirmed yesterday that the bodies of three of the victims had been recovered from the crash site.

Josephine Gibson, victim of Fox Glacier helicopter crash. Photo / Facebook
Josephine Gibson, victim of Fox Glacier helicopter crash. Photo / Facebook

The remains had been taken to a nearby temporary mortuary facility for formal identification, which may take several days.

No Mayday call made

No Mayday call was made before the crash, and it's likely the recovery operation won't resume until Wednesday, media have been told this morning.

In rainy and cloudy weather conditions, Mr Canning addressed media at 9am, along with Marius Bron, LandSAR Westland alpine team leader.

Emily Murphy of Newstalk ZB said authorities would likely have to land people near the crash scene, and had signalled a "staging platform" would be deployed near the recovery area.

This next stage of the recovery operation was unlikely to start before Wednesday.

A severe weather watch had been issued for the next 48 hours, Ms Murphy, who is at Fox Glacier township, said.

"I'm looking at the area where the crash team is at the moment ... the clouds are really dark grey, they're covering the very top of where the crash scene actually is, so that's the situation that search and rescue teams are faced with," she told Rachel Smalley's early breakfast show.

The crash scene was "right up there with the big ice crevasses" she said.

"It's not easy for them [the search and rescue teams] because they've got to be winched down and navigate their way through the crevasses. Some of the wreckage actually lies inside them, so they're actually unsure of the best way to retrieve that wreckage at this stage.

"Obviously the focus is on body recovery so they're working to do that first. There's still four people, the bodies of which are still up there and it's unlikely that that's going to begin happening again until at least Wednesday because they have to prioritise the safety of their staff."

There was no indication at this stage of what might have caused the crash, she said.

"That's exactly the question that authorities here are staying away from. Even when we asked them yesterday, 'tell us about the weather and what it was like up there', they even avoided that question, because there's so many different things the investigation - that is being led by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission - in which that has to take into account that they're just unwilling to provide us with any further information at this stage," Murphy said.

"They are interviewing witnesses in the coming days, that includes people from the company, they're also touching base with the manufacturer of the aircraft, which is both from France and the US, different parts of the helicopter, just to see what mechanical issues may have arisen or things like that.

"So there's a number of different things that they're looking at and it will be some time before we actually get a fuller picture."

No fly zone remains

Fox Glacier tourism operators are taking it day-by-day as a no fly zone remains.

Glacier Country Tourism Group chairperson Rob Jewell says a few people have cancelled their trips to the area, but not many.

He says all other services at Fox Glacier township are open and operating normally.

The company that employed 28-year-old Mitchell Gameron is unsure when flights will resume.

All bookings were cancelled as word spread of the crash.

Company spokesperson Barry Waterland says he had spoken with staff, who were in shock.

The mood in nearby Fox Glacier township was extremely subdued this morning, Newstalk ZB reporter Emily Murphy said.

Ms Murphy said authorities earlier mentioned how even when the weather in town appeared pleasant, conditions at the glacier could be dangerous.

"When you're actually up there it's a whole different story. And they've got to prioritise safety of staff, so I'd be very surprised if they decided to go ahead, but they're obviously trying their best to get all the bodies back."

She said it was expected some of the bodies would go to Christchurch, and some possibly to Auckland to undergo pathology tests.

Ms Murphy said one local woman was worried about the crash and subsequent publicity affecting the livelihoods of people in the area.

"She's worried that all this news is going to terms of attracting people to the area and trying to get people on helicopter flights."

But Ms Murphy said tourists had a wide range of reactions to the crash. Some said the crash showed how "vulnerable" tourists could be but others were less anxious.