Quick-thinking pilot's lake landing
A helicopter pilot who managed to safely land her stricken craft in Lake Rotorua early yesterday has been praised by police and fellow pilots.
Four people, including Volcanic Air Safaris chief pilot Stephanie Puckrin, were pulled from Lake Rotorua after their craft, an Robinson R44 helicopter, made an emergency landing into the lake, 60 metres from the shoreline.
The incident happened just after 10am in Te Ruapeka Bay near the east end of Bennetts Rd.
Eyewitnesses say they heard a loud bang shortly after it took off. But Ms Puckrin landed the craft in a shallow area of the lake and managed to keep the craft upright.
Volcanic Air Safaris director Dorien Vroom declined to comment, saying the company would not speculate on the cause of the "precautionary landing".
Ms Vroom said Ms Puckrin had done "a fantastic job" landing the craft in the lake, and had been temporarily stood down.
"It's company procedure on a day like today. We've stood her down and let her go home."
The company's website says Ms Puckrin had clocked up 1450 flying hours and had been flying in the area for the past year and a half.
She also holds a B and D Cat instructor's rating.
St John northern communications team manager Norm Ngatai said a boat went to the helicopter's aide about 10.15am but found all on board were uninjured.
An ambulance was called to the scene but was not needed.
Rotorua police Senior Sergeant Malcolm Collins said officers had taken statements from those aboard the helicopter and interviewed eye witnesses.
The Civil Aviation Authority would now take over the investigation and examine the craft to determine any mechanical fault.
Ms Vroom said the company was also investigating the landing, describing it as "a low-stress incident".
Mr Collins said the helicopter was carrying three tourists when it landed.
He praised Ms Puckrin's quick thinking.
"She did a great job landing it and everyone walked away uninjured.
"It could have been a lot different if the helicopter had landed on its side. It was all split second stuff."
David Lealand, chief flying instructor at Heli-Hire, said the Robinson R44 was a reliable helicopter and declined to speculate on what may have caused the emergency landing.
All aircraft were subject to rigorous testing.
Mr Lealand said he had seen photos of the landing and praised the skill of Ms Puckrin.
"She's put the helicopter in the best part of the lake, the shallowest part. She's also managed to keep it upright so she's done very well. I take my hat off to her."