23 Jul 2018

Lake Wanaka helicopter crash: community in shock

6:09 pm on 23 July 2018

An Upper Clutha community is in mourning as the search continues for missing helicopter pilot Matthew Wallis at Lake Wanaka.

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Matthew Wallis Photo: Facebook

The 39-year-old was reported overdue after he flew his Robinson helicopter on a routine trip towards Mount Aspiring National Park on Saturday afternoon.

Cold water, deep water and bad weather conditions have hampered searchers as they try to find Mr Wallis and the helicopter.

The Police National Dive Squad today found what is believed to be the helicopter wreckage, near Stevensons Island, but so far there has been no success in finding Mr Wallis.

Queenstown Lakes district councillor Ross McRobie said the community was reeling from the news of his disappearance.

"The feedback over the weekend was one of shock, one of major disappointment to a real, likeable gentleman who did so much for the tourism industry or aviation."

The deputy mayor, Calum MacLeod, agreed, saying losing Mr Wallis was a blow to the family and the Upper Clutha community.

"It's obviously a tragic thing. He was a well-liked man from a well-respected family."

Mr Wallis, who is the son of Warbirds over Wanaka founder Sir Tim Wallis, is presumed dead.

He and three brothers own and operate Minaret Station, a working farm and alpine lodge nestled on the western shores of Lake Wanaka.

His brother Jonathan Wallis, told Morning Report finding Mr Wallis was the "absolute priority" for the family.

"He was flying from point A to point B over a route he had taken thousands of times before," he said.

In a Facebook post, Jonathan Wallis also said he would never forget his brother and promised to care for his son Arthur and wife Alice.

Community members were offering searchers food and boating supplies, aircraft support and search vessels.

Items found

Police confirmed they have found a large, unidentified item, believed to be the wreckage.

Coastguard Wanaka Lakes president Jonathan Walmisley said items were located in depths of up to 50 metres.

He said searching the waters near Stevensons Island was "challenging" as the area was often hit with strong winds, so police divers have asked for help.

A New Zealand Defence Force spokesperson said the Royal New Zealand Navy has joined the search, sending a team of underwater search specialists and equipment on Monday afternoon.

"The Navy team will be using remotely operated underwater vehicles to scan the lake bed," the spokesperson said.

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