Eagle crash remembered
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.
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.