A luxury fishing lodge has ditched the use of Robinson R44 helicopters to ferry its customers following multiple incidents and deaths in the past several years.

The death of experienced Wanaka pilot Matthew Wallis was the final straw for Owen River Lodge owner Felix Borenstein, whose high-end lodge on the banks of Owen River caters for wealthy trout fishing anglers.

"[Wallis' death] was the tipping point. It was like: 'this is just not kosher, we need to do something'," he told the Herald.

Wallis' body was retrieved from the Stevenson Arm area of Lake Wanaka on July 23, two days after the 39-year-old crashed.


Three years prior to his death, experienced instructor Steve Combes and trainee pilot James Patterson-Gardner died when their R44 crashed in Queenstown.

The pair died after their helicopter experienced troubles with mast bumping - when the inboard end of the main rotor blade contacts the main rotor drive shaft.

Pallbearers carry the coffin for Wanaka pilot Matt Wallis at his funeral in Wanaka. Photo / James Allan
Pallbearers carry the coffin for Wanaka pilot Matt Wallis at his funeral in Wanaka. Photo / James Allan

In February the Department of Conservation decided to stop using Robinson helicopters due to safety concerns.

The ban came after DOC put a temporary ban on them in November 2016

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has also added Robinson helicopters to its "watchlist".

TAIC is also investigating the cause of Wallis' crash. It is not known if the cause was related to mast bumping.

However, Borenstein said he had seen enough accidents involving the R44s and decided to stop using them all together to ferry customers to and from his South Island lodge near Murchison.

"I've had a couple of guests that are helicopter pilots themselves that flat out refuse to get into a 44," he said.

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Borenstein said Queenstown, Wanaka and Murchison all shared similar geography and flying his customers in R44s made him "uneasy".

"When really experienced pilots in not horrendously adverse weather conditions start crashing you've really got to start asking the question: 'what's going on?'

"At the end of the day I run a luxury fishing lodge and I just felt for the sake of the extra $600-$700 [we could] fly in a bigger jet turbine machine.

"I just thought, 'that's it, ... there is no option to fly with the 44s," he said.

The Herald has sought to comment from the US-based Robinson Helicopter Company.