Owner's son killed in Queenstown helicopter crash

OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT: Wanaka helicopter pilot Steve Combe and wife Steph.

OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT: Wanaka helicopter pilot Steve Combe and wife Steph.

The wife of a pilot killed in a helicopter crash near Queenstown has written of the 'incredibly tough' time facing the family.

Stephen Anthony Nicholson Combe, aged 42, of Wanaka, and James Louis Patterson Gardner, aged 18, of Queenstown were killed yesterday afternoon in a helicopter crash near Queenstown.

Accident investigators were due to visit the scene this afternoon.

ST ANDREW'S OLD BOY: James Louis Patterson Gardner, 18, with John Key.

ST ANDREW'S OLD BOY: James Louis Patterson Gardner, 18, with John Key.

The teenager's father, former Olympic skier Murray "Mo" Gardner, was also travelling to Queenstown from his north Canterbury home.

A friend said the father was "devastated". Gardner competed in giant slalom at the Grenoble Olympics, in France, in 1968.

Meanwhile, investigators say recovering the wreckage of the Robinson 44 helicopter, may be difficult from the remote crash site in the Lochy River basin shortly after 4pm.

FORMER MARINE: Stephen Combe.

FORMER MARINE: Stephen Combe.

Victim, Patterson Gardner, was son of Louisa "Choppy" Patterson, the owner of the Over The Top, which operated the helicopter. The firm has an unblemished safety record.

Police, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission - the lead agency - and the Civil Aviation Authority are investigating.

Commission lead investigator Ian McClelland said he and another analyst would survey the crash scene today as part of initial evidence-gathering.

Queenstown's Over the Top has temporarily suspended operations.
John Edens

Queenstown's Over the Top has temporarily suspended operations.

Crash analysts would be dropped near the river bed, then walk to the site, 9km up the Lochy River valley in a basin between the southern arm of Lake Wakatipu and North Mavora Lake.

Ad Feedback

McClelland warned access would be a challenge. "It's in the bush in moderately steep terrain.

"It's not high mountains but it is mountainous, it's hilly and in the bush."

Map of helicopter crash location

Map of helicopter crash location

Detective Brian Cameron, of Queenstown, said a scene examination was the next step but recovery of wreckage would not be quick.

"There's a reasonable debris field."

An emergency beacon signal was detected yesterday afternoon after the R44 was reported as overdue and, without a signal, finding the crash site would have been difficult.

One of Over the Top Helicopter's Robinson 44 helicopters.
Nicole Mcbeth

One of Over the Top Helicopter's Robinson 44 helicopters.

Bad weather had seen CAA investigators en route to Queenstown diverted to Christchurch.

Robinson R44 helicopters are one of the most common helicopters in use in New Zealand.


In a statement issued this morning, Over The Top said it had temporarily suspended operations while it focused on supporting family and staff.

It said there was "no indication" what had caused the crash at this early stage but it was working with relevant investigating authorities.

The helicopter firm paid tribute to "our much-loved team members and friends" who died in yesterday's accident.

It said its "commitment to safety is of number one priority" and all staff were highly trained and experienced.

"Stephen has over 12 years' experience of flying in the local area and had many years' serving as a Royal Marine pilot."

The firm said also that "James was no stranger to flying" as his mother had headed up the company for 29 years.

"It's a hugely difficult time for everyone at Over the Top - both will be sorely missed by all the team and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Stephen and James," said the statement.

It asked for the families and staff to be given time to grieve and work with investigators.


Prime Minister John Key was amonst those who paid tribute to Patterson Gardner this morning. 

The teenager was understood to have been due to leave New Zealand today to study at an overseas university.

The Prime Minister said he knew Over the Top's owner and had met her son. A Facebook picture shows Key with the teenager on a golf course overlooking Queenstown.

"It was a privilege to meet James on a number of occasions," said Key. "He was a fine young man.

"It will be devastating for the family and my heart goes out to them."

Christine Leighton, principal of St Andrew's College, said Patterson Gardner completed five years as a boarder in 2014.

"It's just tragic," she said.

"He had a whole exciting life ahead of him." She Leighton understood Patterson Gardner he had been due to go overseas head abroad today, possibly to Sydney, for university studies.

"He was just such a beautiful boy who everybody loved," she said.

"He lived life to the full." He Patterson Gardner was a school house leader and a keen skier, she said.

"We couldn't speak more highly of him as a young man." His friends in the boarding hostel were "devastated by the news" and were being supported by staff. In a statement, Over The Top Helicopters said the company it was "deeply saddened" by the deaths.

"We would like to express our deepest condolences to friends and families of both members on board and are devastated by the loss of such valued and highly regarded team members," the company said.

"We would like to sincerely thank the emergency services for their incredible effort and assistance."


Pilot Combe and his wife Steph, a pilates intructor, moved to Wanaka in 2003 after Combe, a former British Royal Marine with the 847 Naval Air Squadron, completed his tour of duty in Iraq and retired from military service.

They threw themselves and their sons Alexander and Josef into the great outdoors, tramping together, taking part in rogaines and orienteering events and supporting Wanaka mountain runner Mal Law's High50 Challenge.

They were also members of Wanaka's New Life Church.

New Life Church minister Judy Ward said the Combe family was a valued member of its community.

"We are really shocked and saddened. He was such a caring, compassionate person and he will be sadly missed," Ward said.

Steph Combe said it was too soon to talk to the media but later thanked others on Facebook for "their kind words, thoughts and support".

"It means the world to us right now. An incredibly hard time for us.

"It's incredibly tough." 

Steph Combe worked as a senior executive for a management consulting firm before the couple decided to move with their newborn son to New Zealand in September 2003.

Combe began working as a pilot for commercial helicopter companies, most recently Over The Top in Queenstown, while his wife established her pilates business in Wanaka.

Combe was born in South Africa, raised in Britain, and obtained a technology degree at university in Plymouth.

Before joining the British Royal Marines, he worked for the Christian organisation Food For The Hungry in Rwanda, during that country's civil war.

During his eight year military career he served in a logistics role in Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Basra.

Friend Duncan Faulkner said Combe was a "true and honest gentleman of aviation". "The kind of chap I would want my daughters to marry," he said.

"He had incredible faith, and would literally go to the end of the earth to help a mate or complete stranger."

 - The Press

Ad Feedback
special offers

Early morning carnage in Auckland

A St John spokesman said six ambulances were sent to the crash. (File photo)

Six ambulances rushed to early morning Auckland crash that left several people injured.

TV presenter fights off shark

Lomas says he wouldn't hesitate to continue swimming and kayaking in the area.

David Lomas was paddling near Takapuna Beach. He looked down to see a shark attacking.

'That's our son'

Cory Parish kisses the Caulfield Cup following his upset win aboard Boom Time.

The kid from nowhere who has been through all the struggles you could imagine never gave up on the dream.

Derelict property for sale: $8m video

Only the concrete framework of an unfinished house remains on a derelict site for sale near Auckland's Takapuna beach.

An unfinished house which had been at the centre of a neighbourhood dispute could sell for more than $8m.


As many one-liners as birthdays

Kapiti Coast woman Evelyn Hutchins on the eve of her 104th birthday.

Sharp memories, sharp wit: more than 103 years of NZ history and life for Evelyn Hutchins.

Quake near Kaikōura

Guests staying at the Kaikōura Boutique Hotel won't forget Sunday's 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

Hotel occupants rattled as town hit by 5.4m earthquake.

Gorge opening needs rethink

The Manawatū Gorge is unlikely to reopen any time soon as the hillside is too unstable.

Calls for the Manawatū Gorge to open to one lane while a new route is formed.

Free-to-air rugby tests a no-go

New Zealanders may not have minded not having free-to-air All Blacks' tests, following their shock loss to the Wallabies ...

It's not part of a coalition deal with NZ First, Labour confirms.


Diwali delights Cantabs video

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated in Christchurch every year by Indians in South Island and the wider ...

Riches of Indian culture attracts thousands in Christchurch.

Fatal shooting on Coast

Police attend the scene of a shooting on Marsden Rd, Greymouth, on the West Coast.

A woman has died after a shooting in Greymouth.

Apartments project downsized

This original plan has been replaced by one with smaller homes.

Apartment sizes cut back in Crown-led private housing development in Christchurch.

Vandals strike dairy farms

200102014 news photo Grant Matthew / Fairfax NZ

NZ Farmer:
Dairy cow.

Around 30 irrigator tyres punctured with a drill, and milk emptied out of vats.


Armed men rob Hamilton store

The first man was carrying a yellow-handled hatchet and had his face covered.

Carrying a hammer, hatchet and screwdriver, trio steal cash and cigarettes before leaving in a stolen car.

Fast-track housing

The two largest sites could provide about 1000 houses each, and the smallest 42 homes (file photo).

They include an old sand quarry, an old commercial site, and a patch of empty land on the edge of Melville.

Orcas scare swimmers video

The fin looks menacing in the water behind the swimmers at Hot Water Beach.

The killer whales were thought to be feasting on stingrays.

Farm's urban potential

A dairy farm for sale, with Hamilton City in the background, is being pitched for urban development.

City-fringe dairy farm marketed for potential urban housing development.


Good speeds at trolley derby

221017 News Photo. SIMON O'CONNOR/STUFF
Trolley Derby in Eltham.

Fire truck beats tank and all comers in downhill trolley race.

Danger on the roads

A car was left extensively damaged after it rolled multiple times near Mt Messenger.

A spate of crashes keep crews busy this Labour Weekend.

Tough end to Cooper's tenure

Colin Cooper's tenure at Taranaki has ended.

"I'm disappointed, the team was good enough to have a home final here."

Here comes the model railway video

One of the trains pulls into the New Plymouth station at the New Plymouth Model Railway Club.

One of the tracks is a real life simulation of a train journey from New Plymouth to Palmerston North.


Toned, tanned and taunt gallery

Bodybuilding contestants in the novice shape category.

Bodybuilders from throughout the country flex their muscles in Palmerston North.

Mayor's hemp vision

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen wants the Horowhenua District Council to back hemp farming.

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen wants the council to back hemp farming.

Hartley's F1 debut video

NZ's Brendon Hartley during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, ...

Brendon Hartley finishes F1 US Grand Prix qualifying in 18th before penalties are applied.

Farm worker unfairly sacked

Federated Farmers representative David Lee-Jones was found to have unjustifiably dismissed an employee.

Federated Farmers representative must pay up for breaching a fixed-term worker's rights.


Troubled school looks to the future

Golden Bay High School in Takaka has been under statutory management since March.

Outside governance has been appointed to manage a Takaka school and a public meeting will be held next week to discuss its future. 

Makos headed for final

Tasman Makos captain Alex Ainley is welcomed home by his daughters Emilia, left, and Kaiye at Nelson Airport after the ...

The Tasman Makos are now preparing to take on Canterbury in Saturday's premiership rugby final.

Quake shakes Kaikōura

Guests staying at the Kaikōura Boutique Hotel won't forget Sunday's 5.4 magnitude earthquake.

Almost a year on from destructive quake, hotel occupants are rattled by 5.4 magnitude shake.

Special Olympics flame in Nelson

Claire Robertson of Nelson police passes the flame to Special Olympics athlete Fraser McManus during the inaugural torch ...

Intellectually disabled athletes take part in Nelson leg of torch relay to launch games.


Hard to understand? It's how you look at it

Steel sculpture 'Under/Standing' has been unveiled at Brancott Estate, near Renwick.

A geometric marvel, from the man who designed an island, just popped up in the middle of sauvignon blanc country.

What now for Marlborough?

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announces a NZ First-Labour coalition government.

Major players speculate on how the new Government will affect big business, education and local government.

Stuart Smith ready for opposition

Stuart Smith has only experienced the Government side of politics in his career in Parliament, but now faces a new challenge.

He has only experienced the Government side of politics in his career in Parliament, but now faces a new challenge.

Celtic, Valley off to winning start

Opener Shane Wills was the mainstay of the Wairau Valley batting.

Celtic and Wairau Valley made winning starts to the senior 50-over cricket competition on Saturday.

South Canterbury

Back in town after 56 years video

Joe Gillman, 76, made the journey from Stillwater on the West Coast in his 1935 Ford V8 Coupe, to take part in the ...

Motoring enthusiast makes the journey from the West Coast in his 1935 Ford V8 Coupe to take part in the Waimate 50.

ECan waiver for some

10082016  News John Bisset/FairfaxNZ.  Tom O'Connor with his road cones he purchased so he can warn motorists of flooding

Struggling households can apply for a temporary woodburner exemption.

Timaru man flown to Christchurch

Police attended a crash at Maungati, which saw a man with serious injuries flown to Christchurch.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter takes Timaru man to Christchurch Hospital after vehicle rolls at Maungati.

Winchester Rodeo ropes them in video

Ginny Nelson tosses the rope during the team roping event at the Winchester Rodeo.

About 3000 attend rodeo event.


Encouraging start for Southern United

Southern United coach Paul O'Reilly.

Southern United have come from behind twice to secure a hard fought 2-2 draw against Auckland City in Dunedin.

Drunk teen's crash shocks

All four occupants of the car that crashed in Central Otago were intoxicated.

Intoxicated parent a passenger when drunk, unlicensed 15-year-old crashed car.

Climbers rescued after freezing night

Chris Prudden​, leader of Wakatipu LandSAR's alpine cliff rescue team.

So-called shortcut leads to 10-hour overnight stay in freezing conditions for two Aussie climbers.

Ex-convict fears 'war on me'

Rex Haig, of Dunedin, is hoping to lodge a compensation claim with the Government.

Rex Haig's murder conviction was quashed, but his fight for justice is far from over.


Location scout's extraordinary life video

Dave Comer was considered New Zealand's first professional film location scout.

From Barry Crump commercials to Peter Jackson blockbusters, Dave Comer connected NZ's landscapes with its people.

Ex-convict fears 'war on me'

Rex Haig, of Dunedin, is hoping to lodge a compensation claim with the Government.

Rex Haig's murder conviction was quashed, but his fight for justice is far from over.

Garage fire being investigated

A garage on a Conon St, Invercargill, property was gutted by fire on Sunday afternoon.

Fire investigators have been requested following a garage fire in Invercargill.

Climbers rescued after freezing night

Chris Prudden​, leader of Wakatipu LandSAR's alpine cliff rescue team.

So-called shortcut leads to 10-hour overnight stay in freezing conditions for two Aussie climbers.

Ad Feedback