Investigator will not fly in 44s

A veteran aviation accident investigator has told an inquest examining a fatal Robinson 44 helicopter crash near Queenstown that he chooses not to fly in that model of aircraft.

Investigator Tom McCready, told a coronial inquest in Queenstown’s court on Tuesday he prefered not to fly in one, saying Robinson 44 helicopters were "cheaper" and "lighter" than others.

Mr McCready is one of three people commissioned to prepare a report for coroner Alexandra Cunninghame, who is investigating the fatal February, 2015, crash involving a Robinson R44 that broke up mid-flight, killing Steve Combe (42) and 18-year-old James Patterson-Gardner.

Over his 43-year career in the military and civil aviation industry, Mr McCready said he had worked on the aftermath of 38 fatal crashes — in his opinion, the wreckage of ZK-IPY showed the aircraft broke up due to mast bumping and blade divergence.

Lawyer Garth Gallaway, acting for James’ mother Louisa Patterson, asked Mr McCready whether Robinson 44s were cheaper in price than other helicopters.

"Yes they are," Mr McCready said.

"They’re for the masses to go flying helicopters relatively cheaply and I think that was their intention all along."

Robinson four-seaters are popular with commercial operators because they reduced the need to use a more expensive six-seater for a small group.

He said the Robinson design required special training in pilot awareness.

They had been subject to a Civil Aviation Authority directive and are on a Transport Accident Investigation Commission watchlist.

Mr McCready said he was not aware of any other type of chopper which had the same limits placed on it by regulators.

Asked if he declined to fly in a Robinson, Mr McCready replied, "Yes."

He said he made that decision "years ago" for "very practical reasons" when investigating accidents in Queenstown and Wanaka.

He said he could be dropped at an accident site in the early morning in fine weather but waiting in a howling gale to be collected at 5pm.

"So I always hired a more powerful helicopter that could take two or three people and gear and have power margins if things deteriorated."

Robinson Helicopter Company has chosen not to participate in the inquest.

- By Marjorie Cook

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