Snow may be cause of crash

CHE BAKER
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2014
snow crash
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CRASH INVESTIGATION: A Transport Accident Investigation Commission team inspect the main fuselage of the Harris Mountain Heli-ski helicopter, which crashed on Mount Alta near Wanaka. The tail section of the helicopter snapped off and landed about 300m away.

Jerome Box
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CHOPPER CRASH VICTIM: Jerome Box was killed in a helicopter crash on a heli-skiing trip near Wanaka.

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Investigators examining the fatal helicopter crash on Mt Alta will look into the possibility the helicopter landed on a cornice that broke, causing the helicopter to fall backward and roll down the mountain.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission air investigator Ian McClelland said part of its inquiry would involve finding out whether the helicopter landed on a cornice - a packed windblown piece of snow that hangs out from the ridgeline - which then gave way.

However, more information and investigation would be needed before any conclusion to the cause of the crash could be reached, McClelland said. "There will be rumours circling around" that it was the cause of the crash, he said.

Jerome Box, 52, a construction company director from Auckland, was killed when the Squirrel AS350 B2, belonging to Harris Mountains Heliski, crashed on Saturday in fine conditions during a heli-skiing trip from Queenstown.

Five of Box's friends from Auckland, as well as pilot Dave Matthews and ski guide Mark Sedon, were on board and survived the crash.

It appeared the helicopter broke in two and rolled 1km down the mountain, scattering debris, until it came to a halt in a ravine.

Yesterday, the commission completed surveying, inspecting and cataloguing the wreckage.

About 12 people were involved in the effort on the debris field in steep, snow- and ice-covered terrain.

The wreckage was being prepared to be removed from the mountain last night, before being taken to the commission's Wellington technical facility for further examination.

"The investigation team is also retrieving maintenance records and preparing to interview the pilot and other company personnel tomorrow (today)," McClelland said.

On Sunday Harris Mountains Heliski director Mark Quickfall said initial reports the helicopter had clipped the side of the mountain were unconfirmed speculation.

Sedon, of Lake Hawea, was yesterday the final passenger to be discharged from hospital.

Sedon, who suffered two broken lumbar vertebrae, four broken ribs, bruising and contusions, remained in good spirits and was said to be overwhelmed by all the messages of support he had received.

"He may not be looking as pretty as normal but we are all very happy Mark survived [the] horrific helicopter crash near Wanaka," Sedon's friend, Mark Thomas, posted on Facebook.

"Before I visited him in hospital today he warned me he was looking kind of ugly.

"An incredibly lucky, and grateful, man. An incredibly relieved community of family and friends," he said.

Matthews and the four other heli-skiers had been treated for their injuries and discharged from the Wanaka Medical Centre or Dunedin Hospital during the weekend.

Senior Sergeant Allan Grindell, of Wanaka, said Box's friends, who had since returned to Auckland, would likely be interviewed by Auckland police on behalf of Wanaka police. The death had been referred to the coroner.

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- The Southland Times

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