Train­ing aimed at safer flights


More than 50 he­li­copter pi­lots, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the New Zealand De­fence Force, are be­ing trained this week how to avoid a dan­ger­ous phe­nom­e­non which may have caused a fa­tal he­li­copter crash in 2014.

The He­li­copter Line or­gan­ised the vor­tex ring state (VRS) train­ing af­ter one of its Squir­rel he­li­copters crashed on Mt Alta while com­ing in to land, killing Auck­land busi­ness­man Jerome Box (52).

The he­li­copter split in two and som­er­saulted 700m down the moun­tain while a snow land­ing was at­tempted.

Mr Box was one of seven pas­sen­gers in the he­li­copter, five of whom were thrown from the cabin.

THL was fined $47,600 af­ter be­ing con­victed in the Queen­stown District Court of two charges brought by the Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity un­der the Health and Safety in Em­ploy­ment Act. How­ever, Chief Judge Jan­Marie Douge said the par­ties agreed THL’s fail­ings did not cause the crash.

THL chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Quick­fall said vor­tex ring state was iden­ti­fied as a ‘‘po­ten­tial causative fac­tor’’ through an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Direc­tor Grant Bis­sett had since been in ‘‘con­stant con­tact’’ with Swiss pi­lot and for­mer flight in­struc­tor Claude Vuichard.

The founder of the Vuichard Re­cov­ery Avi­a­tion Safety Foun­da­tion cre­ated an al­ter­na­tive VRS re­cov­ery tech­nique which en­abled pi­lots to exit the state more quickly and safely.

Mr Quick­fall said VRS of­ten oc­curred on fine days when there was ‘‘fickle wind’’ not picked up by the pi­lot.

‘‘In­stead of the wind push­ing over the nose of the he­li­copter and get­ting lift un­der the blades, you’re ba­si­cally mak­ing a col­umn of messy air and you lose the lift,’’ he said.

Any in­crease in power makes the he­li­copter de­scend faster.

Mr Bis­sett said the tra­di­tional re­cov­ery tech­nique in­volved ‘‘sig­nif­i­cant height loss’’ of about 200 feet and meant the he­li­copter ex­ited at a high rate of de­scent.

Us­ing the Vuichard tech­nique, a he­li­copter ex­ited with height loss be­tween 20 and 50 feet and climbed un­der con­trol, ‘‘which is crit­i­cal if you are close to ter­rain’’.

Mr Quick­fall said the air­craft could ‘‘re­cover a lot quicker and then hope­fully fly away’’.

The train­ing, which be­gan yes­ter­day, aimed to prevent fu­ture sim­i­lar ac­ci­dents and was opened up to the wider in­dus­try.

‘‘The onus is on all of us to in­ves­ti­gate im­prove­ments to he­li­copter fly­ing,’’ Mr Quick­fall said.

‘‘We have in­vited other par­ties to join the train­ing. It’s a safety is­sue and we are more than happy to in­clude any­one who flies he­li­copters.’’


Dan­ger­ous phe­nom­e­non . . . A he­li­copter fly­ing in the vor­tex ring state, sus­pected to be the cause of a 2014 he­li­copter crash at Mt Alta which killed Auck­land busi­ness­man Jerome Box (52).

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