Police have confirmed wreckage discovered in Fiordland is that of a helicopter that went missing with a Waikato man and English woman on board nearly nine years ago.
Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters pilot Brendan Hiatt yesterday discovered the helicopter wreckage when he took tourists on a sightseeing flight over Hollyford Valley.
A specialist police team flew to the site this morning.
Police have confirmed the wreckage, which was spread across a large area of rugged terrain, was that of a Hughes 500 helicopter which went missing in the area in January 2004.
Waikato pilot Campbell Montgomerie, 27, and English tourist Hannah Timings, 28, were on board the helicopter when it went missing, but the identity of the two bodies found at the scene is yet to be formally established.
Inspector Olaf Jensen said that could only be done through DNA testing.
Their families had been notified of the discovery and were being updated as new information became available.
Jenson said the helicopter went missing while flying in difficult weather from Howden Hut to Milford Sound. It lost radio contact with the Milford Radio Tower just before 9am. An extensive search and rescue operation was mounted the same day throughout the Hollyford Valley.
A two-week air and land covered various routes the helicopter might have taken from Lake Howden to Milford Sound and included over 200 flying hours and 2,500 man hours.
Police said the wreckage discovered yesterday was on the border of the original search area, and entered into extremely difficult terrain.
The pair had not known each other long but became "inseparable", reports at the time said.
They met while Timings was visiting friends in New Zealand on what was planned to be a six-month back-packing holiday.
A coroner found later in 2004 that the couple probably died in the crash, which could have been a result of an error of judgment by the pilot who was unfamiliar with the area and weather conditions.
The man who found the wreckage, Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters pilot Brendan Hiatt, said he was on the way back to Queenstown after picking up two American couples who had been on a cruise around Milford Sound, when he spotted something below.
"I just spotted something glinting that just didn't look quite right amongst the snow, so I said 'we'll just take a look'. It's happened before, where you see a glinting rock or something that you go in closer for a look at. We got close and it was pretty evident what it was."
Perched amongst rocks and scrub in the isolated, bushy valley near Humboldt Creek he could see what looked like a Hughes helicopter, he said.
The helicopter piloted by Hiatt got within about 20m of the wreckage. Those on board the flight could see a section of the tail and a rotor blade, he said.
The wreckage was obviously in bad shape.
"It was destroyed. It's been a very, very violent impact."
He had come across "fresher aircraft accidents, but nothing that's been hanging around for a long time like that", he said.
"There's plenty of them (missing aircraft) around though, so you're always looking I guess."
The remote location where the wreckage was found yesterday was likely the reason why the helicopter, which appeared to have been in the area for several years, had never before been found.
"The lower part of the valley is pretty bushy so the access in there would be pretty difficult, that's probably why nobody's come across it before," he said.
Jensen said the thoughts of police were with the families and police hoped the discovery of the wreckage would bring closure.
- © Fairfax NZ News