Heli-ski firm's safety goals 'never ceasing'

CHE BAKER
Last updated 05:00 20/08/2014
Jerome Box
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CHOPPER CRASH VICTIM: Jerome Box was killed in a helicopter crash on a heli-skiing trip near Wanaka.

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There have been two heli-skiing incidents in 14 years of Civil Aviation Authority records - Saturday's fatal crash at Mt Alta and a minor incident in 2012.

Jerome Box, 52, a construction company director from Auckland, was killed when the Squirrel AS350 B2, being operated by The Helicopter Line, part of Harris Mountains Heliski, crashed in fine conditions during a trip from Queenstown.

The seven others on board - Box's five friends from Auckland, pilot Dave Matthews and ski guide Mark Sedon - survived the crash.

Civil Aviation Authority senior communications adviser Mike Eng said according to its records, there had been one other accident during a heli-skiing operation "since the year 2000".

"No-one was harmed during the accident which occurred in July, 2012 at Minaret Peak," he said.

The helicopter involved was an AS 350 Squirrel.

"It was a relatively minor incident. There were no passengers on board, and the helicopter was not airborne.

"The investigation did not reveal significant new information which could help the authority improve aviation safety for other operators, which is why no report was made public," Eng said.

Yesterday, Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) communications and support general manager Peter Northcote said it had completed interviews with the Queenstown and Wanaka witnesses to the Mt Alta crash.

It was expected the commission would finish its investigations in the Queenstown Lakes region today or tomorrow. It is the second investigation at present involving Harris Mountain Heliskis.

In October TAIC opened an investigation after a crash in the Mt Aspiring National Park where a Helicopter Line helicopter apparently clipped a stationary chopper during a snow landing near Tyndall Glacier.

The Helicopter Line Squirrel rolled and a pilot was seriously injured. The investigation was expected to be completed in March. Company director Mark Quickfall said the two flights being investigated were different as scenic flights were more "straightforward" while heli-skiing flights were at higher altitude and in "more trying conditions".

However, "one accident is one accident too many", Quickfall said. He said the company was safety conscious and completed more check flights than regulations required.

"Our ambition to be safe is never ceasing . . . We will learn as a business and also the industry will learn" from Saturday's crash, he said.

In January The Helicopter Line was involved in another incident on the Richardson Glacier near Mt Cook, where a helicopter tipped over in deep soft snow.

No-one was injured and as it was not regarded as a crash it did not need to be investigated.

Harris Mountain Heliskis returned to operations in the Queenstown Lakes district on Monday.

Correction Today's Queenstown edition of The Mirror reported that the last heli-skiing incident in New Zealand occurred in 2012 and involved Wanaka-based Alpine Helicopters.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which provided the information to The Mirror yesterday, has subsequently confirmed the company name it supplied was incorrect. The error is regretted.

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- The Southland Times

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