Errors, faults brought fatal crash

"Fault on all sides" contributed to a Skydive New Zealand plane accident that claimed nine lives at Fox Glacier on September 4, 2010, New Zealand Parachuting Industry chief executive Keith Gallaher said yesterday.

The Civil Aviation Authority and the commercial skydiving industry were heavily criticised in a report released yesterday by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission that addressed flaws in regulation and monitoring of plane conversions and rules governing passenger loading.

It also revealed cannabis use by two of the deceased tandem jump masters.

TAIC's final report revealed the Walter Fletcher FU24 had been converted from an agricultural crop-duster to a parachute-drop plane only three months earlier by engineering company Super Air Ltd.

"The modification ... had been poorly managed and discrepancies in the aeroplane documentation had not been detected by the Civil Aviation Authority which had approved the change in category," the report found.

The new owner and operator of the plane, Skydive NZ, had not completed weight and balance calculations before the aircraft entered service.

As a result, the plane was flown outside its loading limits every time it carried a full load of eight passengers.

Witnesses reported the plane took off normally before pitching upward until almost vertical. The plane then performed a "wing-over" and plunged vertically into a field.

Those killed were: pilot Chaminda Senadhira (33), of Queenstown; Skydive New Zealand director Rod Miller (55), of Greymouth; Adam Bennett (47), of Motueka; Michael Suter (32), of New Plymouth; Christopher McDonald (62), of Mapua; Bradley Coker (24), of England; Patrick Byrne (26), of Ireland; Glen Bourke (18), of Australia; and Annita Kirsten (23), of Germany.

Post mortem toxicology results showed two tandem jump masters had consumed cannabis - one result was consistent with consuming a single cannabis cigarette within three hours of the accident.

Toxicology results for the pilot were "unremarkable and identified no substances that would have affected his judgement or ability to control the aeroplane".

Rotorua-based Mr Gallaher said nothing would be gained from "finger-pointing" at the CAA, although it was ultimately responsible as the regulatory authority.

The whole industry had to accept more regulation and transparency, he said.

"The straw that broke the camel's back was a combination of errors, all the way through ...

"If any one of those procedural systems had been checked properly, the accident wouldn't have occurred. Everyone is to blame," Mr Gallaher said.

New skydiving certification rules were introduced on May 1 and Mr Gallaher said work would continue for another 18 to 24 months, as the new certification process was reviewed.


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