A high-profile chopper pilot is thanking those who’ve helped her through her darkest year, after the death of her son in a helicopter crash.
James Patterson Gardner, 18, died in a Robinson R44 crash in the Eyre Mountains, southwest of Queenstown.
As mum Louisa ‘Choppy’ Patterson prepares for today’s memorial she reveals she has commissioned a private investigation into the crash.
The experienced pilot, who owns a Queenstown chopper firm, believes a manufacturing weakness could be to blame.
A memorial will be held today for the family and close friends of James and Wanaka pilot Stephen Combe, 42, who also died in the crash.
Patterson: “They’ve left a big gap in a lot of people’s lives all over the country.
“James was a darling boy that had such a kind and generous spirit.
“He achieved so much and touched so many people in his short 18 years.
“He lit up a room and had so much more living to do, so much more to give but his time was cut far too short.”
James, Patterson’s only child, was due to leave New Zealand two days after the crash to start at Sydney University.
Patterson: “I’ve had wonderful support from friends and my crew, and notes, comforting hugs, encouraging nods and empathy from others.
“I’d like to thank everyone for walking with me.”
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is investigating the crash.
Patterson says her private investigation is on hold until it gets access to the aircraft wreckage - which will happen when TAIC completes its inquiry.
“Aircraft don’t break up in flight without there being a manufacturer’s weakness.
“Perhaps God has chosen me to ascertain why it’s happening.”
TAIC’s preliminary report into the crash is due within the next three months and its final report should follow within a further three months. The aircraft wreckage remains in its technical hangar in Wellington.
Patterson expresses doubts new training introduced to New Zealand in the wake of previous R44 crashes will help.
“It’s been in place in the States for over 20 years.
“They’ve just formalised it, saying pilots should do it. Stephen had done it seven times.”
Robinson Helicopter Company’s PR boss Loretta Conley, based at its Californian HQ, says it’s assisting the TAIC investigation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families,” Conley says.
“At this time all we can advise is that we have not been made aware of any mechanical issues with the aircraft.”