Ex-Olympian broke rules on his fatal flight

NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 11:46 24/07/2013
Geoff Smale
CRASHED: Geoff Smale went missing on a flight from North Shore to Ashburton in 2011.

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A former Olympic sailor who died when his plane crashed into a mountain near Nelson in 2011 was breaking several rules by flying that day, a coroner has found.

Geoffrey Smale, who represented New Zealand in yachting at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, went missing on April 9, 2011, while flying his high-performance microlight from Auckland to Ashburton.

He had flown the four-hour route before, but that was the first time he had attempted it solo after he began flying aged 82.

Smale's body and the light-aircraft wreckage were found on April 11 on the northern side of Mt Duppa, northeast of Nelson.

He died on impact, suffering "very high-energy impact injuries" to his head, spine, chest, abdominal organs and limbs, coroner Carla na Nagara found in a report released today.

Although Smale made appropriate pre-flight inspections, he did not have a flight plan and did not make any radio communication with any air traffic services during his flight, despite the poor weather, the coroner said.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said Smale did not activate the emergency parachute recovery system, and it was likely he did not think he was in an emergency situation.

He did not have the minimum 5 kilometres forward visibility, the CAA found.

The technology he was using for information on his flight had incorrect terrain data and he trusted it, not realising he was in a collision course with the ground.

Smale thought he was flying 400 feet above the ground, but he was approaching rising terrain 200ft below Mt Duppa.

The coroner expressed concerns over an "over-reliance" on technology instead of Smale using his basic navigational skills.

"Had he abided by those rules, he would not have crashed where he did," she said.

"The fact that he was, at a time of difficulty, let down by equipment at best described as an aid to navigation and flight does not in the final analysis make that equipment responsible for his crash."

She said several steps had been taken in light of the accident, including correcting the errors in the terrain data.

There was also an article in Vector magazine about the dangers of over-reliance on flight navigation technology.

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