Ea­gle crash re­mem­bered

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By EMMA WHIT­TAKER

GRID­LOCKED traf­fic across the in­ner city was the first hint many Auck­lan­ders had that some­thing had gone hor­ri­bly wrong on the evening of November 26, 1993.

This Tues­day marks the 20th an­niver­sary of the avi­a­tion crash which saw a po­lice Ea­gle he­li­copter col­lid­ing with a traf­fic spot­ting plane 426 me­tres above the in­ter­sec­tion of Karanga­hape Rd and Queen St.

It was 5.34pm on a Fri­day and the roads were full of rush hour traf­fic when the planes col­lided strew­ing the area with de­bris.

Pas­sen­gers Sergeant Lind­say ‘‘Lou’’ Grant, con­sta­ble Alastair Samp­son, civil­ian he­li­copter pilot Ross Har­vey and the plane’s pilot Al­lan Con­nors, died.

The main body of the Ea­gle crashed onto the north­west­ern mo­tor­way on­ramp at Grafton and burst into flames, its main ro­tor land­ing in Sy­monds St Ceme­tery.

The left wing of the spot­ter plane landed on a church near Queen St.

A fire fu­elled by hun­dreds of litres of avi­a­tion fuel broke out on the mo­tor­way.

One mo­torist was in­jured but sur­vived.

For­mer po­lice of­fi­cer Mark Gray had just fin­ished a dayshift work­ing on Ea­gle and was in a bar in Par­nell with a col­league when they heard about the crash on the 6pm news.

‘‘We were in ab­so­lute dis­be­lief – we were only around the corner.’’

He and his col­league headed back to their base.

‘‘It was quite chaotic as you can imag­ine,’’ he says.

‘‘There wasn’t a lot of in­for­ma­tion and we didn’t re­ally know what had hap­pened.’’

Later, af­ter a week of fu­ner­als, it was back to busi­ness at the air sup­port unit.

‘‘They asked us if we wanted to stay on,’’ Mr Gray says.

‘‘Most of us de­cided to stay on. The mood was very dif­fer­ent. We were on edge.

‘‘For weeks we spent a lot of time not look­ing at the ground, which was our role. We were look­ing around the sky for other air­craft.’’

Re­ports fol­low­ing the crash say the planes col­lided be­cause cir­cum­stances meant nei­ther pilot saw the other un­til it was too late.

The po­lice air sup­port unit had only been op­er­at­ing for five years when the crash hap­pened.

The af­ter­math: De­bris landed across a mo­tor­way in­ter­change af­ter the col­li­sion.

The Ea­gle: The he­li­copter around 1990.

Photo: EMMA WHIT­TAKER

In mem­ory: A memo­rial stands at the po­lice Auck­land Air Sup­port Unit base at Me­chan­ics Bay hon­our­ing the Ea­gle crew mem­bers who died when the he­li­copter col­lided with an­other air­craft above cen­tral Auck­land in 1993.

Scat­tered pieces: Queen St.

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