Govt signals aviation changes after Fox Glacier crash

ANDREA VANCE, NICOLE MATHEWSON AND RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 08:50 06/05/2013
The Fletcher aircraft modified for skydiving, which crashed taking off from the Fox Glacier airpstrip September 4 2010 with the loss of nine lives.
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DEADLY: The Fletcher aircraft modified for skydiving, which crashed taking off from the Fox Glacier airpstrip September 4, 2010 with the loss of nine lives.

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Prime Minister John Key says the Government is likely to implement safety changes recommended by an inquest into the Fox Glacier plane crash - and is considering random drug and alcohol testing.

Nine people died in September 2010 when the Walter Fletcher FU24 aircraft crashed into a field, shortly after take-off.

Skydive New Zealand director Rod Miller, 55, of Greymouth, pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, of Queenstown, and dive masters Adam Bennett, 47, of Australia but living in Motueka, Michael Suter, 32, of New Plymouth, and Christopher McDonald, 62, of Mapua were killed in the accident.

The tourists who died were Patrick Byrne, 26, of Ireland, Glenn Bourke, 18, of Australia, Annika Kirsten, 23, of Germany, and Brad Coker, 24, of England.

Coroner Richard McElrea recommended passenger restraints for tandem parachuting flights in New Zealand during takeoff and climb be "urgently considered."

Aircraft in the Fletcher series should be limited to carrying six passengers on parachute operations.

Families of the victims have repeatedly criticised the Government for lax standards.

Key, also tourism minister, says his Government will look closely at the report. And he raised the possibility of mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing for the adventure tourism industry.

Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem he has been "reminding" the industry about.

"There were alleged reports that there had been cannabis in the system of one of the two jump masters. Now, that wasn't the cause of the accident but, a bit like the Carterton ballooning accident it's just totally unacceptable for people that are operating equipment where it's involved in adventure tourism, or frankly any part of the workplace."

He said the Government has been working to "dramatically improve" safety standards across the adventure tourism industry.

However random testing is "a really challenging thing to do."

"The issue is you've got a lot of one-person operators, or two-people operators."

Key said there were "a number of faults" identified in the coroner's report.

"There were a number of recommendations from the coroner, one of which is mandatory seat belts when you take off on tandem parachute jumps. All the weight moves back and that was one of the issues that caused the accident.

"We will look very closely at those and are very likely to implement them if they are possible."

Key said there will be a meeting with the tourism industry in coming months.

"What we have said to them is there is a code that you have to have in terms of drug and alcohol issues and the way that you manage those issues in the workplace.

"And if you don't do something, and take those issues seriously and it continues to present itself, then we will take the next step."

Accidents reflect badly on the industry, he said.

"It's just a terrible tragedy. There are a lot of people who lost their lives as a result of that accident... While people want to come and have a great experience, they also want to get off whatever adventure tourism activity they are on alive. And they should do."

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FAMILIES SLAM AVIATION INDUSTRY

Pamela Bennett, mother of dive master Adam Bennett, was frustrated no-one had been held accountable.

"The industry appears to be pretty blase about health and safety regulations. They all seem to be passing the buck.

"It's nice to have the report, but it doesn't really set anyone's mind at rest. Even if we did know [what caused the crash] it doesn't bring them back."

Victims' families may take civil action against the tour company, Bennett said.

"That might still go ahead because there were certainly lapses in the management of that business. I will wait and see whether the other families are going to do anything and then I think that the way to go would be for all of us to make the one action."

Karen Bourke, whose 18-year-old Australian son, Glenn, was killed in the crash, said he should "never have died" in the accident.

"He had every right to be as safe as possible in that plane and he wasn't. He died and no-one wants to change anything. I don't get it."

Bourke was angry the New Zealand Government did not seem to be taking concerns about its "crazy" aviation industry seriously.

"I wasn't expecting anything out of the inquest because it doesn't change anything for me, but I'm just angry that New Zealand can't see if they don't change their ways they're going to keep hurting people.

"You can make up all the rules you want, but if you don't have a strong body behind it to enforce it, there's no point."

Robyn Jacobs, widow of Rod Miller, said the report "is what it is" and she hoped she and her two sons, Jake and Flynn, could now move on with their lives.

"There are no words that can change what has happened and my heart will always go out to the other families that have also lost a loved one in this tragedy."

- Stuff

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