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Two Westland families are reeling after the death of two close friends in a helicopter crash.
Darryl Condon, 51, of Bruce Bay, and Neale Gray, 54, of Hokitika, were found dead in Mr Gray's submerged helicopter near Haast yesterday.
The pair had taken the Hughes 269A to Wanaka for servicing on Friday and were returning to Bruce Bay in South Westland on Friday evening.
They were last spotted over Makarora in the Haast Pass at 6.15pm. The pair were reported overdue at 9.15pm and, at 11pm, the Rescue Coordination Centre sent up two helicopters to search.
Maritime New Zealand spokesperson Jessie Davis said poor weather and visibility stopped the search just after midnight, but shortly after it recommenced at 7am on Saturday, the wreckage of the helicopter was found in the Fish river, near the gates of Haast.
Neale Gray, the experienced pilot, runs Neale Gray Mechanical in Hokitika.
Darryl Condon had recently qualified as a pilot, following in the footsteps of others in his family, known locally as farmers and keen aviators. He leaves three children.
A Condon family spokesman said members of the large family were gathering at the Condons' Bruce Bay homestead. "Darryl was a very very careful pilot and very careful person in general," he said.
Another West Coast helicopter pilot, Shelley Scott said on her Facebook page: "So many emotions, sending all our love and strength to those who need it today, RIP good friends, such a good feeling flying from a to b ... Don't let sadness and loss taint the love of flying in helicopters!"
Both men's bodies were recovered and sent to Christchurch for a post mortem. The helicopter will be moved to Wanaka for CAA investigation.