Widow’s anguish

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One thousand, three hundred and sixty-two days after Jerome Box’s death, his widow is still waiting for answers.

On August 17, 2014, the Auckland father of two lost his life in a horror chopper crash on the icy slopes of Mt Alta, near Wanaka.

His is one of 34 deaths referred to the coroner from the Queenstown area since 2013 that remains unresolved.

“It takes a horrific toll,” his wife Adelle says.

Figures released to Mountain Scene under the Official In-formation Act show about a third of Queenstown Lakes cases referred to the coroner in the last five years remain open.

That includes Jerome’s, eight cases from 2015, five in 2016, and 20 from last year.

Seventy cases have been closed over the five years. Of those, 24 took more than a year to be completed.

Of those, 24 took more than a year to be completed.

The average number of days to close a Queenstown case was 319 days, slightly higher than last year’s national average of 311 days.

Ministry of Justice group manager courts and tribunals regional service delivery Jacquelyn Shannon said delays often occurred when coroners put inquiries on hold pending the outcome of another agency’s investigation.

“This means coronial inquiries may take longer, with some inquiries not being completed until sometime after a person has died.

Coronial case managers support families during this time by keeping them informed of progress.”

Adelle said the coroner was her “last hope” for further safety recommendations.
In particular, she wanted recommendations about pilot training.

“She’s my last hope. I’m not the Pike River widows, it’s just me, it’s just my tiny wee voice.”

Adelle described the process following Jerome’s death as a “domino effect”.

The coroner’s inquiry is usually the last to take place during an investigation.

That meant if there was a hold up with an earlier report, the entire process could be set back.

“There’s just so many aspects to how we deal with things in New Zealand,”

Adelle says.”It’s gutting and disappointing.”

Spending nearly four years trawling through evidence and hearing the details of her husband’s death over and over again has not been easy.

“When you haven’t been in this situation, you’ve got no idea. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to comprehend.

“It changes your entire life, and the way you look at life.”

Queenstown-based The Helicopter Line was fined $47,600 in early March after being sentenced on two charges in relation to the crash laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act by the Civil Aviation Authority.

It also paid $365,000 in reparation to Jerome’s family and the four other men involved in the crash.

There was also an investigation by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.
A request for the number of complaints received about Coroner’s cases was denied.

The information is held by the Chief Coroner, making it judicial information not subject to the
Official Information Act.

There are coroners located around the country. Of the Queenstown area deaths, 92 were investigated by a South Island coroner and 12 by a North Island coroner.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz