Helicopter wreckage lifted from national park to Wanaka

MARCUS HOOGVLIET: Died in a helicopter crash in Mt Aspiring National Park.
MARCUS HOOGVLIET: Died in a helicopter crash in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The wreckage of a helicopter that crashed, killing the pilot and a trainee, was airlifted out of Mt Aspiring National Park yesterday.

Trainee commercial pilot Marcus Hoogvliet, a 21-year-old Queenstown electrician, and pilot Graham "Stotty" Stott, 31, a Wanaka Helicopters instructor, died when their Robinson R22 crashed on Wednesday.

The helicopter crashed in windy conditions on the western side of the Main Divide.

GRAHAM STOTT: Died in a helicopter crash in Mt Aspiring National Park.
GRAHAM STOTT: Died in a helicopter crash in Mt Aspiring National Park.

Wreckage was strewn around Bow Peak, near the Waipara Saddle.Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager and New Zealand Helicopter Association chairman Lloyd Matheson organised the night search on Wednesday and Thursday.

He said it appeared the helicopter was flying through the Waipara Saddle when it went down.

Two aerial search crews using night-vision detected a weak signal from the crashed helicopter's emergency beacon.

It was possible the beacon detached from the fuselage, which meant searchers initially focused on an area downstream, he said.

Wreckage was found near the saddle, with the rotor and fuselage about 100m apart. Mr Matheson said the region was difficult to search and it paid off flying at night because the faint signal was eventually lost. Flying over the Southern Alps was challenging but conditions were clear during the search, he said.

Wanaka search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable Mike Johnston said a ground and aerial search by 20 volunteers helped recover evidence for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

He said recovery of the wreckage went well and and most of the machine was found in a ravine in the main valley floor. "It was a difficult thing to see if you weren't on top of it," he said.

Commission chief investigator Tim Burfoot yesterday said investigators conducted a survey before the wreckage was airlifted to Wanaka.

After initial inquiries at the weekend, the wreckage would be moved to premises in Christchurch for further analysis.

Robinson Helicopter Company investigators were on standby in case any components needed specialist analysis, Mr Burfoot said.

Mr Stott, originally from Dunedin, had logged more than 2000 hours, while Mr Hoogvliet, a former Wakatipu High School student, was building hours towards a commercial pilot's licence.

The deaths have been referred to the coroner.

john.edens@stl.co.nz

The Southland Times