Crash site 'harsh and unforgiving'

ROB KIDD
Last updated 19:23 12/06/2013
OTTER: A file picture of a Twin Otter at the glacier landing strip at Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica.
MICHAEL FIELD/Fairfax Media
OTTER: A file picture of a Twin Otter at the glacier landing strip at Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica.

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A New Zealand coroner has praised the efforts of rescuers who tried to reach three Canadians whose plane crashed into a mountain in Antarctica in January.

An inquest into the crash was held in Auckland today.

The plane's captain Robert Heath, 55, first officer Michael Denton, 25 and the aircraft engineer Perry Anderson, 36, are believed to have died when their Twin Otter slammed into Mt Elizabeth less than three hours after they took off on the morning of January 23.

The Kenn Borek Air employees were flying to Terra Nova Bay to help an Italian research team but never made it to their destination.

Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, explained to the court and Canadian families who were watching the hearing online, that because the incident occurred in the Ross Dependency it fell into New Zealand's coronial jurisdiction.

New Zealand search and rescue teams were called into action and attempted to reach the site where the emergency locator was transmitting.

Adverse weather hampered efforts over the first couple of days but by January 27, a team was able to be flown in by helicopter.

The angle of impact into the mountain meant only the tail and part of a wing of the plane were visible, with the cockpit buried deep in the snow.

A risky recovery effort saw teams flown in at 13,000 feet to uncover some personal belongings of the three men but the bodies were unable to be extracted from the wreckage.

Crash investigators determined the accident was "unsurvivable".

The cockpit voice recorder was recovered and analysed by Canadian authorities but was found not to hold any audio from the day of the crash.

Mr MacLean stressed the "very harsh and unforgiving environment" under which search and rescue teams had to work and paid tribute to their courage.

He described the operation, which had involved multiple government agencies both in New Zealand and in Canada, as "exemplary" before offering his condolences to the Canadian families.

Further attempts to recover the bodies of the three men are expected to go ahead in summer.

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