Plane crash scene investigations conclude

JOHN EDENS
Last updated 05:00 08/08/2014

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Aviation crash investigators have completed a scene analysis and the wreckage of the Glenorchy Air plane, in which Ray Crow was killed, taken to Wanaka.

The scenic airline's senior pilot was killed on Tuesday when the Piper Cherokee 6 crashed in Lord of the Rings country near the Old Dunstan Road, Poolburn, about 20km east of Alexandra.

American passengers Eric and Sarah Hoffman, of Texas, were seriously injured. They are in a stable condition in Dunedin Hospital.

Robert and Janet Rutherford's family-run Glenorchy Air temporarily suspended operations.

Two Transport Accident Investigation Commission investigators mapped the remote crash scene and the wreckage on Wednesday. The wreckage was transported to a hangar in Wanaka and will be taken to a specialist warehouse in Wellington for detailed analyses of parts and components.

The single-engine United States-manufactured Piper, registration ZK-DOJ, was equipped with a common Lycoming engine. According to New Zealand civil aviation commentators, the aircraft was operated by Glenorchy Air for 18 years and the model is regarded as a stalwart six-seater aircraft.

Commission chief investigator Tim Burfoot yesterday said investigators successfully completed their crash scene work.

"The investigators had a good day. They managed to get it off the hillside before the weather turned."

Investigators focused on recording and documenting the remote crash site and during the next couple of days they would gather more information from police, the operators and any witnesses.

The commission hoped to interview the two survivors and yesterday the Hoffmans thanked everyone for expressing concern.

"We are focusing on our recovery. We have sympathy for Ray and his family and have no further comment to make at this time. Thank you."

Burfoot said it was not possible to determine the cause of the crash and declined to comment on whether mechanical failure or a medical event were avenues of inquiry.

At the commission's dedicated crash laboratory in Wellington, the aircraft would be examined in detail, including component analysis. The engine would be stripped and parts, if necessary, sent for testing, he said.

The commission was also in touch with the US manufacturer and planned to share documentary evidence then, if necessary, the Florida-based company could send a representative to Wellington or delegate a recognised New Zealand supplier for Piper aircraft.

"[With Piper in the US] we make and swap documents as we get into detailed inspections of the engine. If we think it failed in some way, they may send a person or we would take it to a registered maintenance organisation in New Zealand. We would oversee the stripping of the engine. We might decide to focus on components and they might be sent away."

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Crow was trained at the Wakatipu Aero Club and obtained his commercial licence in 2008. He worked as an instructor at the club before joining Glenorchy Air in 2009.

The company said the 56-year-old pilot was in regular contact with the airline's office, which tracks the flight paths of all its aircraft. The light plane was on its expected flight path and crashed short of its next destination and landing at Poolburn airstrip.

Robert Rutherford said the pilot was a good friend and colleague who was sorely missed.

"He was a very experienced and careful pilot who had worked for us for about six years and was well experienced at flying in the mountains. He had flown this particular route many, many times."

- The Southland Times

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