Safety measures are all in limbo

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A litany of 33 Queenstown-related Transport Accident Investigation Commission safety recommendations languish in limbo. 

The 33 recommendations arose from investigations into 11 Queenstown calamities – four of them fatal – dating back to 1999. 

Mountain Scene has checked each accident or incident with a TAIC aviation or marine investigator to confirm the associated recommendations remain officially unimplemented. 

Qantas and Pacific Blue jets on potential collision course during their respective approaches.
(Over Queenstown, June 2010) 
TAIC says: Weather conditions unsuitable for Pacific Blue to descend below minimum descent altitude and air traffic control didn’t ensure minimum separation of the planes. Manuals used by pilots and controllers were inconsistent and confusing. Circling approaches at Queenstown should be re-evaluated and a seeing eye installed behind Deer Park Heights so pilots can assess weather down the lake. Significantly, TAIC calls for a major review of Queenstown’s entire air traffic safety system. 

Regulator responsible: Civil Aviation Authority – which tells Mountain Scene it’s still working on things two years after the mid-air incident. A Deer Park seeing eye would improve safety, CAA admits, but “a range of issues require assessment and consideration” plus consultation. Likewise, CAA is liaising with airlines and tower operator Airways on separation, circling approaches and minimum descent altitudes. A warning has also been given about the need for flight manuals to be consistent. 

Dart River Jet Safaris boat grounds and rolls on a mid-river gravel bank after its driver is distracted when pointing out a flock of geese to his 18 passengers. Everyone escapes by kicking out windows of the craft’s canopy – most passengers jump on to the gravel bank but two go into the river, one of whom is soaked in petrol pouring out of a fuel tank vent. Driver and three passengers injured.
(Dart River near Glenorchy, Feb 2009)
TAIC says: Driver distraction should be recognised as a potential risk in commercial jetboating, emergency exits on enclosed boats should be marked, and fuel vents better designed.
Regulator: Maritime NZ. 

Collision between private jetboat and jetski. Neither jetboat driver Brett Singleton, 51, nor passenger Anton Woitasek, 34, have lifejackets – both perish. Jetskiers Mark Clay and Emma Eckhold – wearing lifejackets – are seriously injured. Both craft were travelling at high speed on a section of river where Queenstown’s council had scrapped an earlier five-knot speed limit within 200 metres of shore.
(Kawarau River, Jan 2009) 

TAIC says: The council shouldn’t have lifted the speed limit – this route is used by Kawarau Jet and Thunder Jet, meaning their drivers contravene the maritime rule of travelling at a safe speed. Alcohol/drug limits should apply to commercial and recreational jetboat drivers – and tests introduced. Safety helmets should be encouraged and perhaps required by law. 
Regulator: Maritime NZ. 

Kawarau Jet craft with 22 non-English speaking passengers hits sandbar and flips – female Chinese tourist Yan Wang, 42, is trapped under the boat and drowns. Another passenger has moderate injuries, a further five minor injuries. Driver Ian Morgan is subsequently cleared of a maritime-law charge (1). (Kawarau & Shotover Rivers, Sept 2008) 

TAIC says: Kawarau Jet has made a number of operating changes but other safety improvements should be made industry-wide – including ensuring passengers, especially foreigners, are made aware of jetboating’s risks, that operators must be able to account for passengers in an emergency, and the problem of poor coverage of emergency radios addressed.
Regulator: Maritime NZ. 

Glenorchy Air flightseeing plane with two passengers comes to grief when the pilot has to steer into a fence to avoid overshooting the short airstrip. No injuries but plane moderately damaged (2).
(Elfin Bay airstrip, April 2007) 

TAIC says: Remote airstrips used for commercial operations should have wind indicators and pilots should be trained in landing and braking on short strips.
Regulator: CAA. 

Queenstown Princess launch grounds during night cruise with 17 passengers, three sustain minor injuries. Water enters hull, flooding the engine and disabling the craft. Passengers clamber ashore to await rescue. (Lake Wakatipu, Feb 2004) 

TAIC says: Skippers need electronic navigation-aid training and beacons should be installed at prominent points on lake. Ownership of the vessel has changed several times since the grounding.
Regulators: Maritime NZ, Queenstown Lakes District Council. 

Collision between Wilderness Jet boat and private jetboat, with former mounting latter on shingle bank – both drivers and four passengers injured. (Glenorchy’s Dart River, Feb 2003) 

TAIC says: Safety plan needed to prevent watercraft conflict on the increasingly busy Dart.
Regulator: QLDC – which promises safety study within a year. However, TAIC records show the recommendation as remaining unimplemented. 

Potential mid-air collision between Air NZ jet and Mount Cook turboprop on approach in bad weather.
(Over Queenstown, July 1999) 

TAIC says: Change visual flight rules to ensure adequate safety margins.
Regulator: CAA promises to review rather than change rules – TAIC recommendation remains unimplemented. 

Two separate instances of Shotover Jet boats striking canyon wall at 65kmh – Japanese passenger Yuichiro Shibata dies, both drivers and 17 other passengers suffer minor to moderate injuries.
(Shotover River, Oct & Nov 1999) 

TAIC says: Develop commercial jetboat driver licensing regime, introduce driver logbooks, require rollover protection for jetboats on braided rivers.
Regulator: Maritime NZ. 

Waterwings flightseeing floatplane hits mountain ridge, pilot and four passengers die.
(Milford Sound area, April 1999) 

TAIC says: Unnamed pilot notorious for flying over ridges with minimal clearance but CAA unaware of his dangerous procedures – passengers should have seat-pocket cards advising how to report pilots flying recklessly. Regulator: CAA adopts TAIC finding but “due to other rule-writing priorities and need for extensive consultation…unable to specify timeframe to complete” – TAIC records show recommendation as unimplemented.

As well as these Queenstown-related examples, there are copious other unimplemented TAIC recommendations from accidents and incidents elsewhere in NZ with a bearing on tourism and public transport nationally. For instance, a North Island helicopter crash in 2006 killing five people resulted in TAIC finding that CAA’s helicopter audit and surveillance programmes were ineffective, as were the training and supervision of chopper pilots flying in mountainous terrain. TAIC’s website shows these important recommendations also haven’t been fully actioned.