Helicopter safety review after fatality

Last updated 05:00 28/03/2014

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Safety training and standards for New Zealand's most commonly used helicopters are under review after a probe into a 2011 fatal helicopter crash.

The move was welcomed by the family of a further pilot killed in similar circumstances 19 months later in the same type of helicopter, a Robinson R22.

"I think any review in training is a good thing, especially around the known problems of these helicopters," Christchurch man Simon Kramer said.

His brother, Wakatipu Aero Club's chief pilot and instructor, Julian Kramer, died in November 2012 in a crash in the Criffel Range, near Wanaka. "I would hate to think a young pilot is getting into a ‘Robbie' and not getting taught everything he needs to know."

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) yesterday released its report into the April 2011 crash near Mt Aspiring in which Wanaka Helicopters instructor Graham Stott, 31, and student pilot Marcus Hoogvliet, 21, were killed.

It raised serious safety concerns about the R22 helicopters and called for safety reviews by the CAA, which was expected to take about 12 to 15 months.

Stott and Hoogvliet had been on a cross-country training flight from Wanaka to Haast but on their return trip, the helicopter broke up mid-flight and crashed near the headwaters of the Arawhata River in Mt Aspiring National Park.

TAIC said the helicopter "had been operating in a high-risk situation" because it was at a high altitude, close to its maximum permissible weight and entering an area of moderate to extreme turbulence.

Conditions caused its main rotor blades to strike the tail boom and cut off the tail rotor.

"With the loss of the tail boom and rotor, the helicopter would have been instantly uncontrollable," the report said.

The pair had been returning from Haast and deviated from their planned route across Matukituki Saddle, flying over nearby Waipara Saddle and into the Arawhata River valley.

Stott could have been unaware of the risks of flying that type of helicopter at near maximum weight at high altitude in moderate to severe turbulence, the report said.

TAIC found New Zealand's regulatory oversight provided insufficient guidance and requirements for instructors, pilots and operators of R22s.

It asked the CAA to review United States' standards for Robinson helicopters.

Stott's family spokesman and brother-in-law, Corey O'Leary, said the family accepted the report's findings. Hoogvliet's father, Henk Hoogvliet, said his family was pleased the report did not find any negligence by either pilot.

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18 per cent of all helicopters registered in New Zealand are R22s, with 149 two-seater R22s out of 816 helicopters nationwide.

R22 helicopters are mainly used for training, private use and agriculture.

There have been 778 helicopter accidents since 1982 and 206 of them were in R22s.

Of those crashes, 92 were fatal, including 27 in R22 helicopters.

Source: CAA

- The Press


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