Pilot died in the country he loved

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2013
Bruce Andrews
SUPPLIED
William Bruce Andrews.

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The Te Anau community is mourning the loss of an "exceptional" helicopter pilot, top bloke and a loving father who died in the mountains he had flown in for decades.

Solo father William Andrews, known as Bruce, died in a remote area of Fiordland on Sunday night after the Hughes 500 helicopter he was flying crashed into steep terrain at Glade Burn.

He leaves behind two daughters aged 11 and 13 years old.

The Te Anau man, 49, was first reported missing on Sunday night when he failed to make it to Dumpling Hut on the Milford Track at 5.30pm to pick up someone injured on the track.

Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager and winchman Lloyd Matheson said helicopters in the area searched for Mr Andrews, their friend and colleague, on Sunday night and located wreckage 838 metres above sea level, in fading light and low cloud, at 9.15pm.

But they were unable to locate Mr Andrews.

However, yesterday a search and rescue team recovered his body.

"What has happened to him, we just cannot work it out. When we first started searching he was anywhere between Queenstown and Milford."

The news had rocked the "close-knit fraternity" of the Southland aviation community and devastated his young daughters and elderly parents, he said.

While Fiordland was a hostile place, Mr Andrews, who grew up in Five Rivers, had been flying for decades and gained huge respect from all who knew him, Mr Matheson said.

"He was meticulous, confident and always reliable."

He worked for companies throughout the region including Southern Lakes Helicopters, Mr Matheson said.

He also had his own helicopter business in Alaska, where he returned each winter to fly, he said.

Mr Andrews had extensive experience flying throughout the world, including Antarctica.

"We are just absolutely devastated that this has happened."

His current employer, Jeff Shanks of Milford Helicopters, said the news was a huge shock to the company and his colleagues.

"He just loved the mountains."

Despite the risks of the industry, the news had still been unexpected, Mr Shanks said. "Obviously things do happen but you don't expect losses like this."

Mr Shanks had visited the Andrews family who were coping as well as could be expected, he said. The family declined to comment yesterday.

Mr Andrews would be missed by many people, he said.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mike Richards said three investigators would examine the crash scene today.

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The site was difficult to access, which could slow down the investigation.

"The retrieval [of the helicopter] could take quite some time."

- The Southland Times

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