27 Apr 2010

Long recovery for Anzac crash survivor

6:09 am on 27 April 2010

The chief of the Air Force says the sole survivor of the Iroquois helicopter crash that killed three crewmen is facing a long recovery.

Sergeant Stevin Iain Creeggan, 36, was named on Monday evening as the only person to survive the crash near Pukerua Bay, 35km north-east of Wellington.

Flying Officer Daniel Stephen Gregory, 28, Corporal Benjamin Andrew Carson, 25, and Flight Lieutenant Hayden Peter Madsen, 33, of No 3 squadron died after their helicopter crashed in a ravine on farm land about 6am on Sunday.

The Iroquois was one of three from Ohakea air base travelling to Wellington for a dawn service to commemmorate Anzac Day.

Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott, the head of the Air Force, visited Sergeant Greeggan in Wellington Hospital on Monday.

He says he has many broken bones and is heavily sedated after having surgery.

The hospital continues to list Sergeant Greeggan's condition as serious but stable.

Families struggle with grief

Air Vice-Marshal Lintott and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp also met on Monday with members of the three dead men's families who have gathered at Ohakea Air Force base from Auckland, Hawke's Bay and Christchurch.

Wayne Mapp says the meetings were very difficult and the families are still very much in shock and are struggling to come to terms with their loss.

Dr Mapp also referred to the death of a soldier from the Linton army base in a motorcycle crash on Monday morning, the death of Squadron Leader Nick Cree in a training exercise in January and other deaths last year.

He says personnell at the Ohakea Air Force base are reeling and the deaths will leave their mark on the Air Force for many years to come.

The families of the three men who died have each been assigned a chaplain to help them through their distress.

The New Zealand Returned and Services' Association has expressed its sympathy to the families.

RSA national executive member David Maloney says it is an unfortunate reminder of the risks involved with military service, whether on or off the battle field.

Air Force chief promises thorough inquiry

Investigators have begun a court of inquiry to determine what caused the crash.

A scene examination of the crash site has begun and will continue for the rest of the week. Squadron leader and senior media adviser with the Air Force, Kavae Tamariki, says the team includes, pilots, medical specialists and engineers.

Air Vice-Marshal Lintott says the inquiry will be as thorough as possible.

"It'll go into every possible facet. It will go back years and look at training regimes, our culture ... how the flight was prepared and planned. It'll be very, very thorough and that's why it will take some considerable time."

Air Vice-Marshal Lintott told Morning Report that investigators will consider the technical aspects of the flight, including competency checks, training and planning.

Evidence from the survivor of the crash will be critical in aiding the inquiry, he says.

Wayne Mapp says deaths are a reminder of the dangers faced by military personnel on a daily basis. The official inquiry is also likely to consider whether the Iroquois are safe to continue flying.

Dr Mapp says the remaining 13 Iroquois will be replaced by eight NH-90 helicopters late next year, but says their introduction has been delayed by certification problems.

Iroquois had 'remarkable' track record

The New Zealand Military Studies Institute says the Air Force's fleet of Iroquois helicopters has had a remarkable track record.

Sunday's crash is the second fatal incident and there have been only four crashes in 44 years of service.

A senior lecturer at the Military Studies Institute, Lance Beath, says the fleet has had heavy use, which tends to be more demanding.

Air Vice-Marshal Lintott says he has absolute confidence in the airworthiness of the Iroquois.

"The age of the aircraft are immaterial to this - there was no risk, or there is no risk. They might be 40 years old, but they're a little bit like grandfather's axe - the parts are renewed at the appropriate times, the servicings are regular and thorough."

Labour Party leader Phil Goff says the Airforce has a good maintenance record and he is confident it would not operate the helicopters if it was not safe to do so.