A helicopter broke apart in midair near Wanaka after the
rotors struck the tail during turbulence, killing the trainee
pilot and instructor, a crash investigation has found.
The Wanaka Helicopters' Robinson R22 crashed on the return
leg of a flight to Mt Aspiring National Park on April 27,
Queenstown trainee pilot Marcus Hoogvliet, 21, and instructor
Graham Stott, 32, were killed in the crash.
A Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report,
released today, found the helicopter had been operating in a
high-risk situation due to a combination of factors,
including moderate to extreme turbulence.
It was also flying at an altitude of 5500 feet and was close
to its maximum permissible weight.
Wind on the day was 40km/h, with gusts of up to 60 or 70km/h
over the mountain passes, causing turbulence around mountain
The helicopter had intended to return to Wanaka along the
Matukituki Saddle, near Mount Aspiring. But an internal
tracking device showed that instead of passing over the
saddle it turned right over the nearby Waipara Saddle, into
the Arawhata River valley.
The helicopter was reported overdue later that afternoon.
The wreckage of the helicopter and the pilots' bodies were
found the next day in the Arawhata River valley. The wreckage
revealed the helicopter had broken up in flight.
The TAIC found the break-up happened after the main rotor
blades struck the tail boom.
Causes included severe or extreme turbulence buffeting the
helicopter, the pilots making large and abrupt movements of
the controls, and the main rotor speed being allowed to drop
below its lower limit.
The TAIC identified a number of safety issues, including a
lack of knowledge within the industry, which meant Mr Stott
may not have been fully aware of the risks of flying an R22
near maximum weight, at high altitude and in moderate to
The report found the format of the Robinson R22 flight manual
did not draw enough attention to safety instructions and
conditions that could result in serious injury or death.
It also noted the rate of R22 break-up accidents in New
Zealand had not been significantly reduced by a local version
of US Federal Aviation Administration measures intended to
prevent such accidents.
The TAIC said aviation regulations must ensure operating
parameters for aircraft were clearly and consistently
articulated to pilots, regardless of the country in which an
aircraft was operated.
It said pilots must be aware of, and stay within, the
limitations of the aircraft they fly.
The TAIC recommended the Director of Civil Aviation address
the pilot and instructor ratings on Robinson helicopters.
Mr Hoogvliet's father, Henk Hoogvliet, said the report
confirmed the family's view that the helicopter had been
overwhelmed by extreme wind and was unable to recover.
"This is a sad day for us all, almost three years after the
accident. However, we are pleased the report is silent on any
negligence on the boys' behalf. They acted professionally,
all things considered.''
The family accepted accidents did occur, he said.
"Those who fly in and around the mountains appreciate how
unpredictable conditions can sometimes be. It appears they
just got caught out.''
Mr Hoogvliet said the family was deeply saddened but did not
"We don't live in a world of `what ifs'. Marcus lived his
life to the full. He spent the happiest last four months of
his life learning to fly. He was a wonderful son to Anneka
and I, and a loving brother to his three sisters. We could
not have asked for more.''
The family's thoughts were with Wanaka Helicopters and Mr
They would never forget the support of the Queenstown
community, their local church and those involved in the
search and rescue (SAR) operation, including police.
"In recognition of the SAR team involved our family will make
an undisclosed donation to the new SAR building, under
construction in Wanaka, for capital costs and associated