Chopper pilot's body found

The body of a pilot and the wreckage of his helicopter have been found after an aerial searcher spotted a piece of paper in Kahurangi National Park, near Nelson.

The helicopter and pilot Damian Webster has been missing since it dropped off the flight radar over the park, 35km west of Motueka, on Tuesday.

Searchers had worked tirelessly for the last four days, often thwarted by poor weather, to find it.

They had a breakthrough this morning when a helicopter search crew, hovering 30 metres above the bush canopy, spotted a sheet of paper in some trees.

A crewman was winched down and confirmed the paper was linked to the helicopter.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Steve Rendle told Radio New Zealand the piece of paper led to finding other pieces of the wreckage but it still took some time to locate the wreckage.

"After the first piece was found, another piece of paper was found in the same area and then a piece of perspex, but still, even with that proximity, it was still a difficult search."

The wreckage of the Robinson 44 helicopter was located within the identified search area about 3pm, after a few more hours of searching in the dense bush.

Ground searchers and additional helicopters were needed to locate the wreck in the difficult terrain, he said,

"As I understand it, it was very hard work for the teams on the ground, very steep ravines and bush covered so not easy going at all.

"It wasn't a case of simply doing a grid search, you had to follow the lie of the land to make some progress.

"The aerial search was equally difficult given the bush was so thick, there was a need to be very close and flying at low speed."

The recovery of the body is being handled by police.

The search had involved up to five helicopters and six ground search and rescue teams over the past four days.

RCCNZ search and rescue coordinator John Ashby said: ‘‘This is obviously a very sad day for his loved ones and our thoughts are with them.

‘‘This was an extremely challenging search, given the steep terrain and thick bush canopy, and it is a credit to the skills of the searchers that the wreckage has been found.

"Identifying a single piece of paper from the air is remarkable and that is what has led us to the crash site.’’

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission and the Civil Aviation Authority are both investigating the crash.

Webster, a builder, had moved to Karamea soon after the Christchurch earthquake in February, 2011. He was a father of one son.

No emergency beacon signal had been detected from the helicopter and the search area was based on information from the helicopter’s tracking system. The search area was around 5km in each direction from that point.