It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of seven people in an adventure tourism helicopter crash in “terrible weather conditions” in New Zealand.
Our deepest condolences are extended to everyone who lost loved ones in the Alpine Adventures crash.
Four British and two Australian tourists were killed at around 1 pm Saturday NZ time. The debris is spread across hundreds of metres and scorch marks can be seen well above the carnage where the impact occurred.
New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry has gained an international notoriety for many tourist deaths and injuries over recent years, including the Fox Glacier parachuting flight crash in which 9 people died and the Carterton ballooning disaster in which 11 people lost their lives (scroll to bottom of page). During investigations into both incidents it was found that some of the people involved were under the influence of cannabis shortly before the flights commenced.
Poor Safety Standards in New Zealand’s tourism industry
“New Zealand relies on tourism as a major source of revenue, but has been criticized by some people as having poor safety standards.
The parents of the four tourists who died in the 2010 (Fox Glacier) crash later wrote to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to urge him to improve safety measures in the industry. Among the dead was British web designer, Bradley Coker, 24, from Farnborough, Hampshire”. UK Daily Telegraph 21 Nov 2015
But International attention was first piqued by the death of young British tourist Emily Jordan who drowned while river boarding. At the time, her father called New Zealand’s safety controls “third world“, leading to an attempt to regulate the industry with a registration and auditing system, but the deaths have continued.
The latest helicopter crash comes weeks after it emerged that a 2012 Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) investigation into the 2010 Fox Glacier parachuting crash, in which 9 people died, was flawed. Overseas relatives of some of the victims have been highly critical of TAIC’s handling of the investigation.
Criticism of yesterday’s fatal crash points out that a local said conditions were poor for flying when the crash occurred. Helicopters should not have been flying in mountainous terrain during bad weather. The weather was so poor it meant that rescuers struggled to reach the bodies of the pilot and 6 passengers. Furthermore, the weather had been bad for some days and it is likely that a ‘bottleneck’ of disappointed tourists was starting to form just as income from the tourist season was picking up.
Bad weather conditions, aviation operators under pressure to get flights airborne
Bad weather conditions meant that rescuers struggled to recover the bodies of the pilot and his six passengers from the wreckage of the aircraft, which went down in challenging and dangerous terrain high on the island’s Fox glacier. Other tourists were in the area at the time, many of them also being ferried in helicopters.
A paramedic had been winched down to the site of the crash and reported that there were no survivors, but a recovery effort and scene examination was “likely to take some days”, police said…
An American tourist who was on a different tour on the glacier said that no one had been aware of the crash until after they had returned to the tour office base. Alexander Baranda, a sports photographer, said flights had been cancelled earlier in the week due to poor weather, but had gone ahead Saturday morning. He had been on the mountain with 22 others in several helicopters, taking the 10-minute flight up the glacier before a three-hour guided tour along the ice.
A spokesman for Alpine Adventures, which operated the single-engine Squirrel helicopter, confirmed it was on a scenic flight with six passengers on board. UK Guardian
The UK Daily Telegraph told its readers that bad weather had put pressure on aviation operators to get people airborne:
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the weather was “marginal” at the time of the crash, with intermittent rain showers and low clouds. “It was not ideal for helicopter flying,” he said.
Kokshoorn said that the region had been experiencing a bumper start to the Southern Hemisphere tourist season, but that bad weather had been putting pressure on some tourist operators. “It can be a fine line,” he said. “Operators are doing their best to get people up there, but obviously something went badly wrong.” source
Alpine Adventures helicopter crashed, rolled over in June 2015
In June a Hughes 369 helicopter owned by Alpine Adventures rolled over while trying to take of in mountainous terrain. That incident is currently under investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority, in the meantime Alpine Adventures continued to operate tourist flights
The helicopter left from Franz Josef Glacier with two hunters on board. It crashed near the Poerua Glacier, in the Westland National Park, trapping the 24-year-old pilot in the cockpit. All three on board were taken to hospital. Mr Scott said at the time the pilot would need surgery, while the passengers were relatively unscathed.
A witness to the aftermath said the helicopter crashed on a bank of tussock and looked like it had “fallen off a hill“. source
Other glacier aviation crashes in NZ since 2010 (source)
The helicopter crash at Fox Glacier, which killed seven people on Saturday, is not the first on New Zealand’s icefields:
June 2015: Pilot Brad Maclachlan sustained serious injuries when his helicopter crashed trapping him in the cockpit shortly after picking up two hunters, who received minor injuries, near Poerua Glacier, Westland.
August 2014: Auckland company director Jerome Box died and five other passengers and the pilot survived when their helicopter crashed on Mt Alta, near Wanaka, splitting in two and rolling down the mountain.
January 2014: A helicopter tipped over in deep soft snow on the Richardson Glacier, near Mt Cook, when the pilot attempted to land. The five people on board, including four overseas tourists, were uninjured.
October 2013: A Helicopter Line aircraft crashed on Tyndall Glacier, near Queenstown, clipping another of the company’s helicopters while attempting to land. One pilot had moderate injuries and 11 tourists were airlifted out.
September 2011: A Skydive New Zealand Cessna 185 plane flipped onto its nose while landing near Fox Glacier. No one was injured.
September 2010: Nine people, including four tourists, died when a skydiving plane crashed and burned on the Fox Glacier airstrip shortly after takeoff.
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The Transport Accident Investigation Commission report into the Fox Glacier disaster was released today watch Extended video: TAIC on plane crash and it wasn’t good news – not for the Civil Aviation Authority, nor Skydive NZ and certainly not for the people employed by them who were allegedly under the influence of drugs. The entire Adventure Tourism industry in New Zealand will be sucking in its breath over this.
Update: Hours later we learned that the pilot involved in the Carterton Ballooning tragedy in which 11 people died was also found to have cannabis in his system…
Now the Herald is running a story about the British father of one of the victims and his campaign to draw attention to New Zealand’s unsafe Adventure Tourism Industry, in the hope that he may shame the country into getting its act together:
The family of a British tourist killed when a skydiving plane crashed at Fox Glacier has launched an internet campaign claiming New Zealand is unsafe.
Chris Coker, whose 24-year-old son Bradley was one of nine people killed in New Zealand’s worst air disaster for 17 years, said his son’s death was “completely avoidable” and showed a lack of proper regulation and control…
And continuing in a course of action that is remarkably similar to that of Chris Jordan, father of another British tourist Emily Jordan whose death prompted a paper-pushing review and weak regulation of New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry…
“Mr Coker has written an emotional letter to Prime Minister John Key begging for a review of aviation regulations, and launched a YouTube video and Facebook campaign critical of New Zealand safety standards.
Mr Coker told the Prime Minister that public and tourists in New Zealand were “not safe” and there was an overwhelming case for change in the way adventure sports are regulated.Until action was taken, there was compelling evidence that young people should “think twice” before pursuing adventure activities in New Zealand…”We say, don’t think twice. Don’t participate in Adventure sport activities in New Zealand. The deaths that make it into the news are just the tip of the iceberg.Think of going somewhere where the safety standards are first world and better regulated. If you’re paying first world money for your experience, demand a world class experience for your dollar. These activities aren’t cheap.Go somewhere where adventure tourism operators have a real appreciation of the hazards, are less likely to be under the effects of illicit drugs and where the accident stats are a lot better…Go somewhere that does not have the no blame ACC accident compensation culture that has evolved in New Zealand.“Elizabeth Coker, Bradley’s sister and a UK lawyer, added that it was “natural” to expect safety and legal standards in Commonwealth countries to match those of the UK and this was not the case.
“You cannot sue for negligence in New Zealand and there is no criminal offence of corporate manslaughter,” she wrote. “In our view, this has had the effect of lowering safety standards in New Zealand.
“There is no ultimate sanction, either financial or criminal, on companies who ignore their duty to protect the public.
“This accident report backs our view that the legal system in New Zealand is weighted entirely against victims of accidents, and indeed the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office website warns UK citizens of this in giving startling advice about travelling to New Zealand.” (all quotes from the NZHerald)
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