Men­tal health not fac­tor


A Wanaka pi­lot’s men­tal health was not a fac­tor in a Queen­stown he­li­copter crash that killed two peo­ple in 2015, an in­quiry has found.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was re­opened on Au­gust 31 last year af­ter the Trans­port Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mis­sion (TAIC) re­ceived new ev­i­dence about Stephen An­thony Ni­chol­son Combe’s con­cern­ing men­tal health the year be­fore the crash.

The 42-year-old in­struc­tor and his stu­dent, James Louis Pat­ter­son Gard­ner, 18, were killed when the Robin­son R44 they were fly­ing crashed near Queen­stown on Fe­bru­ary 19, 2015.

The he­li­copter, which was op­er­ated by Over The Top, was found in re­mote bush in the Lochy River basin.

‘‘It is very likely that the in­struc­tor was med­i­cally fit to fly when his most re­cent med­i­cal cer­tifi­cate was is­sued,’’ TAIC‘s re­port said.

How­ever, in the re­port the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity (CAA) was ad­vised to re­view med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cesses for pilots.

There were ‘‘too many ways’’ to dodge the CAA process that prevented med­i­cally unfit pilots from fly­ing, it said.

‘‘There is cur­rently a low aware­ness amongst med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers of their duty to re­port to the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity if they be­come aware that a pi­lot has de­vel­oped a med­i­cal con­di­tion that would oth­er­wise ren­der them unfit to fly.’’

The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended CAA im­prove mech­a­nisms for doc­tors re­port­ing to it and re­view its med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion process ‘‘to en­sure that it is more ro­bust in iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tially se­ri­ous health is­sues with pilots and other avi­a­tion doc­u­ment hold­ers’’.

Over The Top owner Louisa Pat­ter­son’s only son died in the crash. She said she was not aware of Combe’s med­i­cal his­tory.

‘‘Steve Combe at all times, whilst in his em­ploy­ment with our com­pany, was ob­served as highly pro­fes­sional, com­pe­tent and fit to fly.

‘‘Had there been any con­cerns re­gard­ing his fit and proper per­son sta­tus he would not have been en­trusted with fly­ing my clients or my son.’’

The de­sign of Robin­son he­li­copters was a ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant is­sue’’ that had to be ad­dressed, Pat­ter­son said.

‘‘Had our boys have been in any other air­craft type, this crash would not have hap­pened,’’ she said.

A pi­lot’s men­tal health was not con­sid­ered a fac­tor in a he­li­copter crash that killed two peo­ple in 2015.

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