2 Nov 2016

DOC suspends use of Robinson helicopters

7:11 pm on 2 November 2016

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has suspended the use of all Robinson helicopters to transport personnel, after this week's fatal crash in an R44 chopper.

A Robinson R-44 helicopter

A Robinson R-44 helicopter Photo: 123rf.com

Forestry workers Allan Jessop, 42, from Tangiteroria, and Derek Hammond, 49, from Kauri, were carrying out survey work earlier this week when their Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in Glenbervie Forest, north of Whangarei.

DOC spokesman Harry Maher said the decision to no longer use the helicopters to transport staff, volunteers and contractors was made to protect their safety.

"The safety of our people is paramount so in light of the recent accident we are suspending the use of these helicopters for operations where DOC staff, volunteers and contractors are passengers."

DOC said it would liaise with the Civil Aviation Authority during their investigation of this latest accident and review its position as further information from the CAA came to hand.

Last week, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) added Robinson helicopter models to its official watchlist of "most pressing concerns".

Aviation NZ chief executive John Nicholson said it was too soon to draw any links between Monday's crash, and the safety of the helicopters.

"It's difficult, isn't it? The TAIC report came out last week, we've had the accident this week. There is a danger that companies will make knee-jerk reactions and associate one with the other, and it's far too early to be doing that."

Mr Nicholson said the Robinson helicopters were safe if flown within their operating limits.

Including this week's crash, 20 people have died in crashes in New Zealand involving the Robinson R22, R44 and R66.

The helicopters have been plagued by so-called mast-bumping incidents, in which the main rotor blades strike the cabin, causing the helicopter to break up in mid-air.

Fourteen such incidents have been investigated since 1996.

The California-based Robinson Helicopter Company told RNZ over the weekend it had been trying to understand why mast-bumping accidents were so prevalent in New Zealand, saying the accident rate here was significantly higher than other parts of the world.

It said its investigations revealed that some training techniques in New Zealand did not match up with those recommended by the company, or US authorities.

It was working with TAIC, CAA and flight instructors to fix that.

It firmly believed in the safety and reliability of its helicopters, it said.

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