22 Nov 2015

Seven dead in Fox Glacier crash

12:03 am on 22 November 2015

A helicopter crash at Fox Glacier has killed the pilot and six passengers, who police believe were tourists from Australia and the United Kingdom.

The wreckage of the helicopter on Fox Glacier.

The wreckage of the helicopter on Fox Glacier. Photo: NZ Police

Police said formal identification of the passengers would take some time, but they believed two were Australians and two were from the United Kingdom. Police have been liaising with the High Commissions of the countries concerned to ensure the next of kin are advised of the situation.

A recovery team and air accident investigators hope to reach the crash site this morning.

An airforce helicopter arrived at Fox Glacier on Saturday night carrying three Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigators as well as two from the Civil Aviation Authority and airforce personnel.

TAIC spokesperson Peter Northcote said the weather conditions forecast would influence what aircrafts could actually get to the scene.

He said the area was hazardous, with initial scene photography showing the area was full of crevasses.

Mr Northcote said they would like to get at least one investigator to the scene of the crash but it would depend on what they find out from the aerial survey and risk assessment that would take place on Sunday, weather permitting.

Police Commander for the West Coast, Inspector John Canning, said they were alerted to the crash at the top of Fox Glacier shortly before 11am.

"We responded and sent rescue helicopters up there and found the wreckage of a local helicopter.

"Unfortunately it appears the pilot and the six passengers in the craft have died in the crash. Because of the weather we have been unable to recover their bodies today, and we hope to do that tomorrow," he said.

He said due to the terrain, it would be a slow, technical recovery.

"The terrain at the top of the glacier is very rough, as you can imagine it's icy and there are crevasses - it's quite dangerous," he said.

Inspector Canning said the conditions at the time of the crash were not good, and attempts by rescue helicopters to reach the scene were hampered by low cloud and rain.

"Fox Glacier has lost a member of its community, the pilot. They are a very tight community here and they're grieving over that - it's [brought up] fresh memories from five years ago when they lost another pilot just over there at the airport."

The police operations base for the crash.

The police operations base for the crash. Photo: RNZ / Peter Newport

Alpine Adventures said the single-engine Squirrel helicopter took off from the Fox and Franz Heli Services base on a scenic flight this morning with six passengers and the pilot on board.

The alarm was raised at about 11am and four helicopters were sent to the scene.

A spokesperson from the rescue coordination centre said terrain was rugged and heavily crevassed. The weather initially prevented emergency services from accessing the crash site.

The helicopter is operated by Fox Franz Heli Services, which is owned by Alpine Adventures.

Tourism operators extend sympathies

The Fox Glacier community's tourism operators are extending their sympathies to the families of the seven people killed in a helicopter crash this afternoon.

The Glacier Country Tourism Group, which represents 95 operators, said in a statement, their thoughts were also with Alpine Adventures and their staff at this time.

The group's chairperson Rob Jewell said their focus was on providing as much support as possible.

Criticism of investigation into 2010 Fox Glacier tragedy

The crash comes three weeks after the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) changed its original finding on the 2010 Fox Glacier skydiving plane tragedy.

Nine people were killed, including four foreign tourists. Eight parachutists and the pilot died when the plane plunged to the ground on 4 September 2010.

Overseas relatives of some of the victims have been highly critical of TAIC's handling of the investigation.

TAIC said in its report in 2012 that the weight and balance of the plane was the most likely cause of the crash.

But its review last month said the aircraft was probably controllable after take-off and it was unlikely weight or balance was the primary cause.

That led to demands for an apology, but the minister in charge of the commission, Craig Foss, has backed the TAIC's decision not to apologise.

Tom McCready (left) and Andrew McGregor - independent air accident investigators at dig site Fox Glacier in March 2014

Tom McCready (left) and Andrew McGregor - independent air accident investigators at dig site Fox Glacier in March 2014. Photo: Peter Newport

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