Less than three months since the Wallis family farewelled one of four brothers after a helicopter crash in Wanaka, they have they lost another brother.

Nick Wallis, along with two Department of Conservation staff, died yesterday in a fiery crash when their aircraft plunged into a paddock near Wanaka Airport.

Conditions were fine and good for flying, with light winds and sunny, clear skies as the aircraft set off on a mission to cull tahr.

People are now questioning how the leased chopper fell from the air in the catastrophic accident.

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Wallis was the youngest son of aviation entrepreneur Sir Tim Wallis who pioneered the South Island's live deer recovery and created a helicopter operation empire.

In July, Sir Wallis farewelled his son Matthew who was recovered from Lake Wanaka two days after he crashed into the lake.

Matthew was farewelled by 1500 people at a service held in a marquee at Wanaka Airport on July 30, nine days after his death. He was 39-years-old.

Yesterday his brother Nick died about 1500m from the airport when the Hughes 500 helicopter he was flying crashed shortly after taking off.

He is survived by a wife and twin 7-year-old daughters.

Smoke billows from the wreckage of a helicopter as emergency services attend the fatal accident near Wanaka. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Smoke billows from the wreckage of a helicopter as emergency services attend the fatal accident near Wanaka. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed two DOC staff members had died in the incident and director general Lou Sanson said he was "devastated".

"This is a tragedy for our staff who are like family and are passionate about the work they
Do. We are still trying to come to terms with [the] tragedy," he said.

Sanson confirmed reports the helicopter was travelling towards Haast to take part in a Tahr culling operation.

Ardern and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage both extended their sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of the victims.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of all those who died in today's tragic crash,'' Ardern said.

"It's an absolute tragedy that these staff and the helicopter pilot, who were just going about their work, will never return home.

"We will make sure we get to the bottom of this crash as soon as we can.''

The helicopter crashed around 100m from the Clutha River and is clear of any apparent aerial hazards.

Burnt wreckage near a fence line and a tail section more than 100 meters away is all that remained of the helicopter piloted by Wallis.

Alan McKay, who was nearby when the crash happened, said from a distance it appeared there was nothing left of the helicopter and it looked like a campfire.

"There was virtually nothing left," he said.

"I'd say it's just a very very unfortunate accident. It's a sad day for Wanaka."

Men in high-visibility jackets spent yesterday afternoon scouring the surrounding area of the wreckage for parts of the helicopter.

There are still many unanswered questions, with many wondering how the crash occurred on a day when flying conditions were good.

A former DOC worker said it would surprise him if Wallis was at fault, describing him as a very talented pilot.

"It will be really interesting to find out what has happened here. I can't believe it would be
pilot error as Nick was super experienced and a really talented pilot."

An investigation has been launched by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

TAIC chief investigator of accidents Captain Tim Burfoot told media very little was known about the incident.

Four TAIC investigators travelled to Wanaka last night and would work at the scene from first light today.

Emergency services attended the crash site and police later confirmed three people had been onboard with no survivors.

Otago Lakes-Central area commander Inspector Olaf Jensen said the victims' families had been notified and police were working to support them.

"We acknowledge this is the second helicopter crash in the Wanaka area in recent times and the impact this will have on the local community," he said.

The helicopter is believed to have been under lease to Alpine Helicopters, which is owned by the Wallis family.

The Otago Daily Times understands police officers met with Sir Wallis, who had spent the past month in hospital with poor health, to inform him of the incident.

Last night members of the Wallis family were seen consoling each other at a Wanaka Airport hangar.