Choppers grounded in wake of crash

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The Civil Aviation Authority is grounding Robinson R44 series helicopters following last week’s fatal chopper crash near Queenstown.

All Robinson R44 series helicopters fitted with main rotor blades P/N CO16-7, otherwise known as dash 7 blades, have been banned from flying as of yesterday, the CAA says.

In a statement, CAA Director Graeme Harris says the directive is a response to an investigation into the R44 accident on Thursday that killed Stephen Anthony Nicholson Combe, 42, of Wanaka, and James Louis Patterson-Gardner, 18, of Queenstown.

The pair were found dead at the scene of the crash, in remote bush in the Lochy Valley area, in the Eyre Mountains southwest of Queenstown,

It appears the aircraft’s main rotor blade has failed during flight, he says.

Yesterday’s announcement was to “prevent the possibility of main rotor blade separation and consequent loss of the helicopter”, Mr Harris says.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission spokesman Peter Northcote says it supports the CAA’s ‘precautionary grounding’.

“The commission also reinforces CAA’s caution against jumping to the conclusion that blade failure was the cause or a factor in this accident in what are still early days of the inquiry.” 

Northcote says the commission’s two investigators and two CAA investigators successfully recovered the chopper wreckage yesterday. It will now be transported to the commission’s Wellington technical facility for further examination.

Today, the commission investigators will begin interviewing representatives of the operator company.

It is thought around 80 R44s will be affected by the CAA’s directive.

A total of 184 Robinson R44 aircraft are recorded on the New Zealand Civil Aviation register.

Otago Daily Times