All Bodies Recovered from Fox Glacier’s “Suicide Alley”. “New Zealand is Slapdash with Air Safety” Says Grieving Father

Fox glacier where 4 britons have died in helicopter crash

Weather conditions on the day of the crash were not ideal for flying and operators were under pressure to get tourists airborne

New Zealand’s reputation as an unsafe tourism destination grew again with the recent deaths of four British and two Australian tourists in a helicopter crash over the Fox Glacier.

The downed helicopter is wedged in a glacier at the base of a steep slope. The large size of the debris field, and scorch marks in the hillside above, indicate that the aircraft may have crashed into the valley side in weather before it fell into the glacier,  ruling out the possibility of mechanical failure.

fox glacier crash site

The crash rescue base

This most recent disaster on the ill fated Fox Glacier has followed other fatal crashes involving overseas visitors, some of which have been aviation based – such as the Carterton Ballooning fireballr and the Fox Glacier parachuting crash in 2010, both of which were entirely preventable: during the investigations it was found that people in charge of the activities had cannabis compounds in their blood.

Today recovery teams managed to retrieve the last bodies from the Fox Glacier crash site. Other tourism operators have recommenced flights in the region as if nothing had happened.

Suicide Alley

The size of the debris field and scorch marks in the hillside above indicated that the aircraft crashed into something before it fell into the glacier, police have also said there are problems in identifying bodies. The Alpine Adventures flight was flying off a designated landing spot known as the Chancellor Shelf, also known as “Suicide Alley” when it crashed. There was no transponder or black box on board, and no mayday call was made.

A few days ago the British press made the public aware of New Zealand’s cavalier attitude to tourist safety with articles such as this one published by The Times on 23 November 2015. In it the bereaved father of a tourist killed in New Zealand makes a valid point about nothing changing in the country unless financial pressures are brought to bear. Until that happens, tourists will continue being killed and seriously injured in a country where there is a “slapdash” attitude to tourist safety and a no-blame culture.

New Zealand is slapdash with air safety, says grieving father

The family of a British man who died in a New Zealand plane crash five years ago have criticised the country’s “slapdash” attitude to the safety of tourists following the deaths of four more UK nationals on Saturday.

Bradley Coker, 24, from Farnborough, Hampshire, was killed in 2010 when the light aircraft in which he was flying to take part in a skydive crashed at the Fox Glacier Aerodrome.

Last month, New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission admitted that key parts of the plane’s wreckage had been buried three days after the crash, ultimately limiting the commission’s ability to determine the true cause of the accident.

Mr Coker’s father, Chris, spoke to The Times after the deaths of four Britons in a helicopter crash on the Fox Glacier, on New Zealand‘s South Island, at the weekend.

Andrew Virco, 49, and his partner Katharine Walker, 50, of Cambridge, were killed with Nigel and Cynthia Charlton, 66 and 70, of Romsey, Hampshire, when the single-engine Squirrel helicopter in which they were travelling as part of a scenic flight with Alpine Adventures, crashed in bad weather over the eight mile-long glacier in the country’s Westland National Park.

Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, both from South Aus-tralia and the pilot Mitchell Paul Gameren, 29, of Queenstown, New Zealand, who had almost 3,000 hours of flying experience, were also killed.

“If the helicopter of Saturday’s crash has been completely destroyed it is unlikely we will ever find out the true cause of the crash as the TAIC cannot be trusted to investigate accidents properly,” Mr Coker, 63, said.

In New Zealand, under the Accident Compensation Corporation, it is not possible for nationals and tourists to sue for negligence, which Mr Coker believes is the major reason why such tragic accidents continue to happen in the country.

“There is no right for the families of the victims to sue for negligence so no one is held accountable,” he said. “Since Bradley’s crash not a lot has really changed in New Zealand which means his death was for nothing. The government has not taken any notice. Until this affects New Zealand financially they will not do anything.”

Those who saw last Saturday’s helicopter crash site said that debris was spread over several hundred metres, with the main part of the helicopter wedged between huge blocks of ice… source

Lord of the Rings 
Radio NZ has published a history of glacier and mountain aviation  accidents (reproduced below) in New Zealand, including one last year in which American tourists Sarah and Eric Hoffman of Houston, Texas, were taken to Dunedin Hospital with serious injuries. Their pilot, Ray Crow, was killed  during a Glenorchy Air Lord of the Rings scenic flight. The TIAC is currently investigating.
Glenorchy crash

The Glenorchy Air crash killed the pilot and injured two American tourists

21 November 2015

The helicopter crashes into rugged and crevassed terrain on Fox Glacier on Saturday morning, killing pilot Mitch Gameren and six tourists, believed to be two Australians and four Britons.

27 June 2015

Three people survive a helicopter crash on Poerua Glacier in Westland National Park. The pilot suffers serious injuries, while two hunters that had been picked up escape with minor injuries.

16 March 2015

Four members of the Macdonald family of Christchurch are killed when their Cessna 185 crashes in mountainous terrain near Wanaka’s Motatapu River.

19 February 2015

Two people are killed when their Robinson 44 helicopter crashes in the Lochy River Basin near Queenstown.

16 August 2014

Aucklander Jerome Box is killed and four of his friends, along with the pilot and a ski guide, are injured in a helicopter crash on Mount Alta near Wanaka as the aircraft comes in to land during a heliski trip. The helicopter rolls almost a kilometre down the side of Mount Alta.

5 August 2014

A Glenorchy Air Piper Cherokee crashes just north of the Poolburn Reservoir near Alexandra, killing the pilot and injuring two American tourists during a Lord of the Rings sightseeing flight.

12 April 2014

Two men die when their helicopter flying from Wanaka to the West Coast crashes in the Fish River near Haast Pass. The bodies of the 54-year-old pilot and a 51-year-old passenger were found inside the wreckage.

9 January 2014

The pilot and four passengers are uninjured when their helicopter drifts sideways while landing on the Richardson Glacier causing it to roll over. The helicopter was destroyed.

15 December 2013

A helicopter pilot dies after crashing near the Milford Track in Fiordland National Park.

28 October 2013

Rescue helicopters take 11 people from the scene of a helicopter crash near Queenstown to hospital suffering various minor injuries, while the pilot os airlifted to hospital with moderate injuries. The helicopter was attempting to land near the Tyndall Glacier, at the head of the Shotover River, but collided with a second helicopter on the ground.

8 November 2012

The pilot of a Robinson 22 helicopter dies after his machine plunges down a hillside on Avalon Station, in the Cardrona Valley near Wanaka.

20 September 2011

A Cessna 185 overturns while landing near Fox Glacier. No-one is injured.

27 April 2011

Two men die after the Robinson 22 helicopter they are in fails to return from a training flight. The wreckage was located at the head of the Matukituki River in rough terrain about 50 kilometres north-west of Wanaka near Mt Aspiring.

6 April 2011

One person dies and another is seriously injured after a helicopter crash near Lake Coleridge in the South Island. The privately owned helicopter had dropped off a group of hunters before crashing.

4 September 2010

Nine people – five New Zealanders and tourists from Australia, England, Ireland and Germany die when a skydiving plane crashes at Fox Glacier airport. They had set out on a sky-diving trip, but the Skydive New Zealand flight crashed shortly after take-off.

Last month the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) reversed a main conclusion  on the cause of the 2010 Fox Glacier skydiving plane tragedy. Overseas relatives of some of the victims have been highly critical of TAIC’s handling of the investigation.

TAIC said in its original report that the weight and balance of the aircraft was the most likely cause. But in late October 2015, following a review, TAIC said it was unlikely that either was the primary cause, and the true cause may never be known. That led to demands for an apology, but the minister in charge of the commission, Craig Foss, continues to back its decision not to apologise.

5 September 2008

The pilot of a Cessna 177 is seriously hurt and his two passengers suffer moderate injuries when the plane hit power lines. The plane crashes into bush after knocking out power to the area for eight hours. The pilot had been attempting to land at Fox Glacier airstrip.

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One thought on “All Bodies Recovered from Fox Glacier’s “Suicide Alley”. “New Zealand is Slapdash with Air Safety” Says Grieving Father

  1. Is it about the money? New Zealand is all about the money. If extra precautions are taken for that extra buck, it’s always gonna end badly. Unfortunately, New Zealand has a reputation for being “all about the buck”! That said, Kiwi landscape is perilous, tight and dangerous. There is a risk but we have to ask ourselves if the ridiculously high numbers of tourist deaths is worth seeing the NZ sights?

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