Fatal helicopter crash 'entirely avoidable', inquest told

The site of the crash in the Lochy River basin in the Eyre Mountains, southwest of Queenstown....
The site of the crash in the Lochy River basin in the Eyre Mountains, southwest of Queenstown. Photo: NZ Police
A coronial inquest into the deaths of two pilots in a Robinson R44 crash near Queenstown in 2015 began in the resort today.

James Patterson Gardner (18), of Arrowtown, and Wanaka pilot Stephen Combe (42) died when the helicopter broke up in-flight while flying over the Lochy River valley in the Eyre Mountains southwest of Queenstown on February 19, 2015.

The men were employees of Queenstown company Over the Top, which operated the helicopter.

Mr Patterson Gardner was the son of Over the Top chief executive Louisa (Choppy) Patterson.

In his opening submissions, counsel for Ms Patterson, Garth Gallaway, said the crash was "entirely avoidable" and due to the vulnerability of the R44 to mast-bumping events.

Had the two men not been flying a Robinson R44, "they would still be here today", Mr Gallaway said.

Robinson Helicopter Company had decided to not take part in the inquest.

"That, in my opinion, is an indictment on the organisation and speaks for itself."

After discussions between Coroner Alexandra Cunninghame, legal counsel for the families of the deceased and media representatives, Ms Cunninghame made a suppression order relating to some photographic and verbal evidence expected to be presented during the hearing, and the publication of photographs and personal information relating to Mr Combe’s immediate family

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