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Tributes for men who died in helicopter crash

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 17:33 13/04/2014

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Friends and family of two West Coast men killed in a helicopter crash have been left shocked and in grief by their deaths. 

Pilot Neale William Gray, 54, of Hokitika, and passenger Daryl Robert John Condon, 51, of Bruce Bay were found dead in the wreckage of a helicopter crashed in the Fish River near Haast.

The Greymouth-based NZCC Rescue Helicopter began searching for the pair on Friday after they were reported missing about 9pm, but the search was called off at midnight.

The wreckage of Gray's Hughes 300 helicopter was spotted in the Fish River, near the Gates of Haast, during another air search yesterday morning. 

Wanaka Police and Land Search and Rescue's river rescue team accessed the remote crash site about 1pm, finding both men still in the helicopter. 

Friend Bevan Climo said the pair were helicopter enthusiasts and both owned their owned Hughes 300s.

They were ''born and bred Coasters'', who were both well-known and popular. 

Gray ran a mechanics workshop in Hokitika and been flying for several years, while Condon had recently qualified as a pilot.

''It doesn't make sense because [Gray] was a very careful pilot.  I'm still getting over the shock,'' Climo said. 

Condon's family in Bruce Bay said they were processing the news. 

The case had been referred to the coroner and the Civil Aviation Authority.

Police said the helicopter wreckage would be stored in Wanaka pending investigation. 

CAA spokesman Mike Richards said the authority extended its ''sincere condolence'' to the family and friends of the two victims. 

The Hughes 300 two-seater helicopter was flying from Wanaka to the West Coast when the crash happened.

Richards said it appeared the helicopter had descended through the tree canopy before crashing into the river close to the road, but in a particularly difficult spot to access. 

The men's bodies and the crashed helicopter were recovered by the local search and rescue team's Squirrel helicopter - a highly manoeuvrable and versatile type of helicopter used by emergency services around the world. 

Police divers were also needed to secure a winch from the Squirrel to the submerged helicopter wreckage.

The CAA decided to move the wreckage to a secure hanger in Wanaka to allow a close inspection of the mechanical and electrical aspects of the aircraft, he said.

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''The conditions were not suitable for an on-site inspection due to the steep embankment and rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.''

Extensive photographs were also taken at the crash site and would form part of the CAA investigation, which would begin when two investigators arrived in Wanaka tomorrow morning.

- The Press

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