Salvage operation unsuccessful

Divers Simon Mitchell and Pete Mesley are picked up by a digger bucket after an attempt to...
Divers Simon Mitchell and Pete Mesley are picked up by a digger bucket after an attempt to salvage a helicopter engine from Lake Wanaka on Saturday.
The organisers of a private salvage attempt on a Robinson 22 helicopter engine in Lake Wanaka are returning to the drawing board after failing to find what they wanted last weekend.

Wanaka helicopter pilot Toby Wallis said yesterday a date had not been set for the next attempt on the late Morgan Saxton's helicopter engine.

"The operation was not successful in finding the engine. However, a part of the helicopter's landing gear was found, which was very near the engine by about 10 to 20 metres we think, and we have yet again narrowed our search to a smaller area.

"We used a magnetometer to sweep the lake bed in the area where the part was found and picked up. A signal of significant size nearby was picked up, which we will search next time," Mr Wallis said.

Mr Wallis and Wellington dive master Bill Day have now co-ordinated two attempts to retrieve the engine from more than 70m under water.

Mr Saxton (31), of Haast, died on November 1 last year when his helicopter crashed into Lake Wanaka between the eastern shore and Mou Waho Island.

He was flying in near perfect conditions at the time.

Traffic Accident Investigation Commission's (TAIC) accident report is not expected to be completed before February next year.

Navy and police divers and search and rescue volunteers were able to retrieve Mr Saxton's body and his helicopter chassis several days after the accident.

Mr Wallis is keen to retrieve the engine so TAIC inspectors can examine it as part of their ongoing inquiry into the as-yet unexplained accident, and also to help pilots understand more about the accident.

TAIC has decided not to continue with a salvage but has said it would welcome any new information the engine would reveal.

Mr Wallis and Mr Day's first salvage attempt in June was unsuccessful because of adverse weather conditions and lack of visibility under water.

Auckland deep-sea diving specialist Simon Mitchell was involved in the June dive and returned with diving colleague Pete Mesley, also of Auckland, last weekend.

"The dive went well but there were choppy conditions on Saturday and almost perfect conditions on Sunday. We got a couple of bits of the helicopter - a skid and we found some cabling. But we didn't find the engine.

"We found some more areas where it is not. We are kind of puzzling over that," Mr Day said.


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