Pilots take farmers down to the wire
Taranaki helicopter hero Alan Beck is praising farmers who are taking down wires on their farms.
"If it saves just one life, it's worth it," he said.
Beck chairs the New Zealand Agricultural Aviation Association (NZAAA) whose Down to the Wire campaign is alerting farmers to the risk wires pose to agricultural pilots.
The campaign is close to home for Beck, whose pilot son David just missed flying into a wire on a Taranaki farm in April this year.
The wire spanned a gully on a 100ha beef farm owned by the Schumacher brothers at Tuna, near Midhirst.
Brian Schumacher said he put it up only six months ago as a feeder wire to power electric fences at the back of the farm. "We control the bulls with electric fences," he said.
After being alerted to David Beck's near-miss, Schumacher has decided to remove the offending wire. Neighbour Ian Jury, for whom Beck Helicopters was applying fertiliser that day, is going to help.
The wire crosses a corner of Jury's dairy farm, which is surrounded by the L-shaped Schumacher property.
"It's no problem [to remove it]," Schumacher said. "It's just a matter of dropping it down and running it along the fence."
Schumacher is not the only Taranaki farmer who has decided to get rid of wires on his farm.
Rob Law is also about to take down wires on his hillcountry farm at Kohuratahi. "I've probably got two that could trip a helicopter. If you have a helicopter working on your property, you're always wary of wires. They're a death trap. I don't really want to kill a helicopter pilot."
He said he had no problem with the new health and safety legislation which made farmers responsible if there was a wire- strike on their farm.
Alan Beck, who said there had been 23 wire-strike fatalities in New Zealand in the last 40 years, including one in Taranaki, appreciates the farmers' efforts. A wire-strike victim himself, he broke his back when the helicopter he was flying struck wires in 1992.
Federated Farmers is assisting the NZAAA campaign because Taranaki president Bronwyn Muir said hillcountry farmers had little awareness of the penalties - a $600,000 fine or a prison term - they faced if an agricultural pilot was injured while working for them.
Muir said a farmer wanting aerial work carried out on his property needed to talk to neighbours so any hazards could be identified before the pilot started the job.
"We're communicating to farmers that safety is a priority for aircraft operators.
"There are risks to pilots if we don't get it right," she said. "The simple solution is to eliminate the wire.
"Farmers who can't get power to the back of their farms have options other than wires. They can use solar power. There are solutions other than just drawing off the main power unit at the front of the farm. And they could save someone's life."
Taranaki Daily News