Debris from Saturday's helicopter crash is spread over
about a kilometre on Mt Alta. Photo from 3News.
It was a ''miracle'' only one person died in the Wanaka
helicopter skiing tragedy, a church service was told yesterday.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission says the
heli-skiing flight was coming in to land when it crashed on
The smash resulted in the death of Auckland construction
company owner Jerome Box (52) and injured six others on
board, including members of his church.
Priest leader Mathew Newton yesterday told churchgoers at
Auckland's St Paul's, packed with hundreds of people -
including some openly weeping - to prepare for ''a tough
couple of weeks''.
''[Jerome] died and a number of others were quite badly
injured, and it's actually a miracle they walked away from
Mr Newton invited the partners of people on the trip to come
to the front of the church and lead prayers. He later said
there was a ''sense of guilt around being a survivor''.
The Skyline Enterprises-owned, Harris Mountains Heliski
Squirrel helicopter crashed into Mount Alta, about 25km
northwest of Wanaka, about 12.20pm on Saturday, spreading
wreckage over about a kilometre in steep, snow-covered
terrain at high altitude.
''The aircraft has rolled into a small ravine, so the
wreckage is over quite a significant area with some
challenges with the access,'' TAIC lead investigator Ian
McClelland told media at Queenstown Airport yesterday.''
The preliminary information we have is the aircraft was in
the process of landing.
''Harris Mountains Heli-Ski boss Mark Quickfall told the
Otago Daily Times yesterday the alarm was raised by a
heli-ski guide who saw the crash ''from a distance''.
''One of the guides, not on the helicopter, but skiing in the
vicinity actually spotted the helicopter going in to land and
obviously have an accident.''
The guide called the heli-ski base, sparking a rescue effort
involving a large number of helicopters, paramedics, ski
guides trained in first aid, police and alpine search and
A stream of helicopters carried those injured to the Lake
Wanaka Medical Centre and four were then transferred to
All except guide Mark Sedon have since been discharged and
have returned to their homes in Auckland and Queenstown.
Two TAIC investigators, who arrived in Wanaka yesterday
morning, flew over the crash site. It is believed they landed
on the side of the mountain for a closer look. A more
thorough examination, with the head investigator present,
will take place on Mount Alta today.
''It is a challenging environment, in terms of the terrain
and also the weather at the moment, and so we're seeking some
expert advice before we do venture on to the slopes,'' Mr
Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mike Richards said on
Saturday he understood the helicopter ''clipped'' the
mountain but Mr McClelland steered clear of any possible
''That's rumour at this stage. Our objective at this stage is
just to gather all the information and then we'll do the
analysis later on.''
He said today's priority was for the three TAIC investigators
to have a full day examining the crash site. Interviews of
the pilot and surviving passengers would follow, dependent on
their health and availability.
The wreckage would be recovered after the scene examination
The investigation could take up to 18 months, he said, and
would aim to identify all contributing factors and safety
issues to ensure such a crash did not happen again.
The helicopter was piloted by Dave Matthews, of Queenstown,
who joined the Helicopter Line in 2008 and had flown for
three or four seasons of heli-skiing.
Yesterday afternoon Mr Matthews was heading home from Dunedin
and Mr Quickfall had yet to speak to him.
Asked about the general hazards encountered by heli-ski
pilots, Mr Quickfall said wind was one factor and ''flat
light'', which made visibility difficult, was another.
''But that wasn't the case [on Saturday] ... there weren't
strong winds and there certainly wasn't flat light.
''But it would only be speculating to suggest what might have
The ill-fated trip into the mountains was the third or fourth
of the day for Mr Matthews on Saturday and the second for the
Skiers are normally unloaded at new drop-off points for each
run, so they have ''untouched snow'' in front of them.
Skyline Enterprises owns both the Helicopter Line and the
Additional reporting by APNZ.