Chopper crash rigger disputes report

MICHAEL FOX AND JESSICA TASMAN-JONES
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2011
Chopper
Civil Aviation Authority
A graphic showing the preliminary cause of the helicopter crash.
Helicopter crash
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax Media Zoom
The scene of the crash on Auckland's waterfront.

Helicopter crashes on Auckland waterfront

Greg Gribble
SUPPLIED
GREG GRIBBLE: Was involved in a helicopter crash at the Auckland Viaduct.

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A rigger involved in a helicopter crash at Auckland's Viaduct last month says he's not to blame for the accident.

The Civil Aviation Authority yesterday released its preliminary findings which showed the November 23 accident happened when a rigging supervisor jumped up to grab a cable from the bottom of the helicopter, causing it to tighten and touch the aircraft's rotor blade.

Pilot Greg Gribble miraculously walked away from the accident, which happened as he was helping erect the Telecom Christmas tree on Auckland's waterfront.

The crash was seen live on the internet and footage went around the world.

The CAA report said "massive out of balance forces" tore through the helicopter after it struck the lifting line, which was attached to the bottom of the helicopter and the top of a nearby tower.

"After raising the tower, the helicopter descended to hover at about 5m so the lifting line could be detached from its hook by the rigging supervisor on the ground," it said.

"When the rigging supervisor jumped up to grab the line, it instantly tightened and touched the helicopter's main rotor blades. The force of the impact caused major structural damage and the aircraft hit the ground."

Gribble, who had not seen the preliminary report, said he'd had no explanation from the rigger involved, Scott Anderson, and called his actions a "massive rush of blood to the head".

They knew what caused the accident but wanted to know why Anderson had acted that way.

"Nobody knows [why], he's the only guy that can actually tell anyone the reason why he jumped up and grabbed that rope and I'm still gobsmacked."

Gribble said he had not heard from Anderson since the crash.

Anderson of West Auckland company Uni-Rigg, says he emailed Gribble after the accident expressing his relief  everyone was okay and hadn't received a reply.

He says Gribble "has his mind [made] up" about what happened and hasn't tried to contact him since.

According to Anderson, there was never any plan for the helicopter to come below the top of the 25m mast forming the trunk of the tree and the cable was not long enough to be unhooked from the ground.

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Anderson, who was part of a rigging team of four, says the original plan was for the cable to unhook from above the mast.

He says the contingency plan, if Gribble was not able to unhook the cable on his own, was for two riggers to climb to the top of the mast and unhook it manually.

"You don't have to be too good at maths to work out the length of the line, which Greg chose, and the height of the mast meant he could never land anyway without hitting the rope, so if I hadn't gone anywhere near it he still would have had a crash.

"My reasoning behind releasing that line as quickly as possible was the sooner we could do that was the least danger he would be in.

"But because of my vantage point under the helicopter, that was probably the worst for any kind of visual reference for distance because of the downwash happening, I was relying on the spotter and Greg to do that but those calls never came."

Anderson was angry the CAA had not spoken to him before releasing its preliminary findings.

"None of that was in the report, that we deviated completely from the plan, and they didn't even interview me. It surprised me. How can you even release a report without even talking to the guy you're going to blame it on?"

He said the CAA was due to speak with him on Thursday.

Anderson says Gribble, who he has worked with on about 60 other lifts, had his own spotter on the ground whose job was to stand back with the best line of sight where the helicopter is and where the rigging is.

"The bummer of it all is it's such a simple job, and we've done it before, and somehow it's gone completely wrong.

"Obviously I was just really thankful no one got hurt and [also] really disappointed. We've been doing this for years, so it's a real kick to the pride and you feel terrible, and you definitely feel responsible for part of it."

Gribble, who was interviewed by CAA last week, said they had put together a detailed plan with Uni-Rigg about how to release the line and were communicating via radio.

Gribble said he could not get the helicopter low enough to the ground to unclip the rope and decided to instead hover above the tower for someone to unclip him from there.

He was pulling up to do that when the accident happened, he said.

Gribble expected the full report would detail exactly what happened and said he would release his own findings once it was all over.

CAA spokeswoman Emma Peel said the reason for the rigger's actions would form part of the investigation along with the suitability of the plans formulated between Gribble and the ground crew.

"It's possible that we may find the rigger was told to do precisely that in which case the actual cause of the event shifts and it becomes about whether or not the actual plan was a good one," she said.

"We know from experience with aircraft accidents that what might appear very obvious right in the early stages can sort of recede in importance as the investigation continues.

"We see that actually, no, although that physically caused the accident, that wasn't the real problem - the real problem was something else and that's why we have a longer, drawn out process to actually get to the real [reason] why this has happened rather than just the initial thought of what happened."

The investigation is continuing with a focus on the pre-flight safety briefings, the pilot's experience and training, health and safety aspects, potential preventative measures that could have been used, and the identification of human factors that apply to this accident.

The full findings could take up to 12 months.

- Auckland Now

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