Helicopter crash site probe may take four days

CRASH: Pilot Julian was killed in a helicopter crash between Wanaka and Queenstown on Thursday.
CRASH: Pilot Julian was killed in a helicopter crash between Wanaka and Queenstown on Thursday.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) safety investigation officers are expected to take up to four days to inspect the wreckage of a helicopter which crashed between Wanaka and Queenstown on Thursday night, killing 52-year-old pilot Julian Dean Kramer.

A well-respected pilot with more than 30 years' flying experience, Mr Kramer was the Wakatipu Aero Club's operations manager and chief flying instructor.

Mr Kramer was the sole occupant of the Robinson R22 when it crashed enroute to Queenstown Airport from Wanaka Airport about 8.40pm.

Ben Gordon, the owner of Avalon Farm where the helicopter crashed, said he was told of the incident by Hamish MacKay, who farms on a neighbouring property and had watched the helicopter crash. "He saw the helicopter going along the Pisa Range and he thought it was going quite fast at a normal height then it just fell out of the sky."

Mr Gordon said Mr MacKay knew a fair bit about helicopters as his brother Mark was also a pilot.

"He knew straight away that it was pretty bloody awful," he said.

He described the wreckage site, which was about 30m in radius, as "bloody horrible".

"It was a really fast, high-impact crash. There is nothing left of the helicopter. It's as flat as a pancake."

CAA spokesman Mike Richards said investigators had four days' hard work ahead of them inspecting the wreckage, which was strewn across the hillside, to determine the cause of the crash.

"We've got two safety investigation officers working on the site now and we expect them to be there for four days."

Sergeant Aaron Nicholson, of Wanaka, co-ordinated the search and rescue operation, which involved police, fire, St John and LandSAR and two helicopters - one from Queenstown and the Otago rescue helicopter, to locate the wreckage. It took police about 40 minutes to trek through bush and find the wreckage, which was in an area that was difficult to access, about 9.30pm on Thursday. Fire crews on site contained any fire risk.

Mr Kramer was flying the helicopter, which is owned by Andrew Fairfax, back from Wanaka after the pair flew there earlier in the evening to collect a fixed-wing light aircraft.

Mr Nicholson said both pilots left Wanaka Airport about 8.30pm to fly back to Queenstown via the Cardrona Valley, with emergency services being informed the helicopter had crashed just 10 minutes later.

Mr Fairfax, who flew the fixed-wing aircraft back to Queenstown, learned of the incident while he was waiting at Queenstown Airport for his friend to return.

The matter has been referred to the coroner.

Julian Kramer preferred to be known as a woman by the name of Julianne and was widely known as such. The Southland Times has identified him as Julian because that is his legal name, it is the name released by police and it has been requested by his family.

The Southland Times