Breaking his back after a helicopter he was flying struck wires in 1992 prompted Eltham's Alan Beck to embark on a safety campaign which is changing the face of the aviation industry.

The accident drove Alan to found the Down to the Wire Campaign, which has alerted farmers to the risk wires pose to agricultural pilots, and it has dramatically decreased the number of deaths caused by wire strike.

Alan's efforts have been recognised, with the chief executive of Beck Helicopters receiving the Individual Award at the Director of Civil Aviation Awards in Nelson.

Alan says he was shocked at receiving the award, but proud to be recognised for his work.

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"Safety has improved tremendously. "We have been trying to lift the profile of wires and we have seen a massive decrease in accidents - although we are still having wire strikes unfortunately."

Alan's accident occurred in 1992 in Tarata and it took him six months to get his license again after crushing three vertebrae. Alan says 30 years ago, television aerial wires as well as electric fence wires going across gullies were everywhere. When he hit the wire, it wrapped itself around his helicopter and winched him down - damaging the helicopter and breaking his back.

"So I tried to do something about it - there was no legislation. Wires are very hard to see - especially when you are moving at 96km an hour."

It was the third time he had hit a wire and most agricultural pilots have had the unfortunate experience. Twenty-eight agricultural pilots and 80 other pilots have been killed by wire strike.

The award features a hand throwing a dart. The dart represents a generic aircraft and the hand is throwing the spirit of aviation into the future, sculpted by New Zealand artist Peter Roche.
The award features a hand throwing a dart. The dart represents a generic aircraft and the hand is throwing the spirit of aviation into the future, sculpted by New Zealand artist Peter Roche.

After successfully driving the Down to the Wire Campaign in Taranaki, Alan took it nationally and soon found the backing of key people like Dick Smith and Richie McCaw. He is now taking it further and will launch the campaign internationally on a big scale by the end of the year.

Alan has had more than 20,000 flying hours in Bell 47, Bell 206 and Bell Iroquois helicopters, carrying out a variety of aerial work and air transport operations.

He is a former chairman of the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association where he was instrumental in helping establish safety measures and operational standards, mostly around the use of fertilisers and sprays.

"A big concern is water quality and keeping sprays and toxic chemicals out of waterways and getting them on target."

The push for better safety guidelines has lead to Worksafe deeming the airspace to be a workplace. Now if a farmer has a wire up and doesn't take all reasonable precautions to alleviate an accident and somebody hits the wire they can be held responsible for the crash.

Alan says although there are still wire strikes, the numbers of deaths have decreased from around 17 in every 100,000 to three in every 100,000.

Director of Civil Aviation director Graeme Harris said the awards went to people in the industry who demonstrated "an outstanding safety ethos".

"The recipients are people who go out of their way to the do the right thing and do it the right way.

"Having an aviation system which performs to the highest safety standards is crucial for all New Zealanders, our economy and our international reputation."