Helicopter in fatal crash was too heavy
There was no mechanical reason for the helicopter crash that killed Jerome Box in 2014 on Mt Alta near Mt Aspiring National Park, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has found.
Unadjusted seatbelts, flying with a heavier load and an unintended angle of approach were just some of the reasons that contributed to the accident that trapped and killed the Auckland passenger on August 16.
The AS350 helicopter, operated by The Helicopter Line, struck the slope heavily after the pilot tried to correct his landing approach.
TAIC’s chief commissioner, Jane Meares, said the accident caused the cabin to break apart, ejecting five of the seven occupants, before the helicopter rolled 300 metres down the mountain.
Six passengers suffered moderate to serious injuries.
‘‘The commission found it was very likely that several of the passengers’ seatbelts were not securely adjusted, which made it more likely that they would be ejected,’’ Meares said.
Had its seatbelts been adjusted more securely, the injuries suffered by the passengers may not have been so severe.
In addition, the aircraft was overloaded.
‘‘The helicopter was loaded 30 kilograms over the maximum permissible weight, and its centre of gravity was just forward of what was allowed. It was operating at or close to the performance limit for hovering in this situation.’’
The investigation into the fatal crash of the tourist helicopter on the Southern Alps ridgeline also found other safety issues.
Pilots weren’t routinely required to calculate the performance capability of their helicopters for the intended flight. There was also a risk of pilots not knowing their aircraft’s capability when using its standard passenger weight.
Additionally, the commission found this accident and others suggested a culture among New Zealand pilots of operating aircraft beyond their limits.
The inquiry made three recommendations to the director of Civil Aviation Authority, Graeme Harris, that would address the identified safety issues.
These were to remind aircraft operators and pilots of properly securing seatbelts, of their helicopter’s performance, and the need to be alert to the potential for adverse environmental conditions to occur.
The conditions at the time of the crash were fine, clear and there were light variable winds in the area. The Helicopter Line was using several AS350-B2 (Squirrel) helicopters to ferry heli-ski groups to the top of ski runs.
The wrecked dashboard of the AS350 helicopter, operated by The Helicopter Line, on Mt Alta. Passenger Jerome Box, below, was killed in the August 2014 crash.