Senior rescuer surprised no deaths in helicopter crash

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A senior search and rescue officer is surprised no-one was killed in Monday’s helicopter crash on the Tyndall Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Kevin Banaghan, of the Rescue Co-Ordination Centre, says given the remote location, extent of damage and number of people involved (11 passengers), he was “very surprised that we did not have a fatality” when a descending helicopter clipped a stationary helicopter near the glacier.

Both aircraft were from the Helicopter Line, Queenstown.

The pilot of the helicopter trying to land was flown to Dunedin Hospital’s intensive care unit at 7.45pm on Monday with serious head injuries after being seen at Lakes District Hospital.

A Helicopter Line director, Mark Quickfall, said the pilot was in a stable condition yesterday.

“Some of our team have gone through to Dunedin with his immediate family to provide support,” Quickfall says.

All the passengers had been discharged from hospital “as far as I’m aware”.

They had been admitted to Lakes District Hospital, Frankton, on Monday and then some were transferred to Invercargill “just for scans [as a] precautionary measure, but they have all been cleared”.

The tourists had been on a scenic snow-landing experience when the incident occurred. Two Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigators inspected the site yesterday afternoon, TAIC investigation support general manager Peter Northcote says.

The damaged AS350 Squirrel helicopters were removed to storage in Wanaka and the investigators hoped to interview passengers and the pilot of the stationary helicopter today.

The injured pilot would be interviewed when his condition permitted, Northcote says.

The Helicopter Line will carry out its own internal investigation. Quickfall says the injured pilot had been with the company for several years.

“He’s an experienced pilot, both with fixed-wing flying in the Mt Cook region and, in later years, helicopters. So he’s certainly not a new aviator.

“Both pilots were very experienced.”

It was still not clear how the two helicopters had made contact, Quickfall says.

“One of the helicopters had already landed and the second machine came in to land and things didn’t go to plan.

“Helicopters have the ability to [land close to one another], so we really don’t know whether it was a wind gust or what. We make snow landings around the South Island daily with our fleet of 20-plus helicopters, so it’s not something that’s new to us.”

– Otago Daily Time with additional reporting APNZ