Helicopter crash pilot 'lucky to be alive'

A helicopter pilot who crashed in rugged terrain in the Catlins is lucky to be alive, police say.

A police spokeswoman said the Rescue Coordination Centre received an alert from the Emergency Locator Beacon of an agricultural spraying helicopter at 6.42pm yesterday evening.

A search and rescue chopper flew out from Dunedin, but low cloud foiled its attempt at an aerial search, necessitating a ground search, the spokeswoman said.

At this point, police and volunteer search and rescue teams were scrambled into the bush near the Wisp Range in the Owaka Valley.

They faced a two-hour hike to reach the crash site.

Police said conditions were "trying'', with fog affecting visibility in the steep and rugged terrain.

While they managed to establish voice contact at 10pm, the spokeswoman said it took "a number of hours to recover the pilot using ropes and people-power.''

The inclement weather stalled the deployment of a rescue helicopter to the area, but when conditions improved at 1am he was transported to the waiting chopper via a van and a motorcycle.

Senior Constable Murray Hewitson, of Owaka, who co-ordinated the search, said the man was "lucky to be alive''.

"He should buy a lotto ticket this weekend.

"There's been a crash and he's been found dazed but alert about six hours after the fact.''

Snr Const Hewitson praised the rescue teams and volunteer searchers from the Owaka area.

"Without the help of our rescue teams and our volunteer searchers ... we wouldn't have been able to find this guy in the testing weather conditions.

"So a special thanks goes to them for their hard work last night and this morning.''

St John spokesman Gerard Campbell said the pilot received moderate injuries in the crash and was transported by helicopter to Dunedin Hospital.

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokeswoman Philippa Lagan said the CAA was investigating the crash but did not have anyone on scene. 

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