Coroner investigating chopper tragedy



A coroner’s hearing into the deaths six years ago of a Queenstown trainee pilot and his instructor starts in the resort today.

James Patterson-Gardner, 18, and Stephen Combe died on a training flight when their Robinson R44 crashed into bush near the Lochy River, which drains into Lake Whakatipu, in February 2015.

In 2016, Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found the chopper — owned by James’ mother Louisa Patterson’s company, Over The Top — broke up in mid-air due to an unexplained mast bump, where the rotor blades strike the cabin.







Over The Top reacted by removing Robinsons from its fleet, and Patterson, spurred by a TAIC recommendation, co-developed an inflight data recorder called Eye In The Sky.

Patterson says she welcomes this week’s coroner’s hearing, despite the length of time it’s taken to be convened.

‘‘I’m just thankful we’re finally having a chance to be heard.’’

James’ legacy: Louisa ‘Choppy’ Patterson with her Eye In The Sky device, recently certified by the Civil Aviation Authority as an inflight data recorder

With the assistance of a lawyer, she says ‘‘we will attempt to establish if it had been any other aircraft type then it wouldn’t have happened — and if there had been a flight data recorder fitted to the aircraft, then the answer would have been available to TAIC within 48 hours, not 48 months’’.

‘‘And perhaps the coroner’s court would have had a chance to establish the cause of death or the reasons behind any anomalies that might protect the greater public, within a couple of years, rather than six.

‘‘The more answers we can find, then perhaps it will force Robinson to follow up on some investigations into their rotor-head design that were recommended by the Federal Aviation
Administration in America some years ago.

‘‘Or the coroner may say she feels these aircraft are not fit for purpose in New Zealand for passenger transport because there’s unanswered questions on them.

‘‘The bottom line is, if I’d known then what I know today about the Robinson R44 aircraft, then we wouldn’t have owned one, and James wouldn’t have been killed.’’

In a book released last year, she claimed 100 more people had been killed worldwide in ‘‘inflight fatalities from a Robinson R44 inflight breakup’’ since her son and Combe had perished.