Recovery efforts praised

The Wallis brothers (from left) Toby, Nick, Matt and Jonathan in 2015. Photo: Mark Price
The Wallis brothers (from left) Toby, Nick, Matt and Jonathan in 2015. Photo: Mark Price
Wreckage from Matt Wallis' Alpine Helicopters R44 Robinson helicopter, similar to the one pictured, that crashed into Lake Wanaka on Saturday will now be examined by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission. Photo: Patrick Weis
Wreckage from Matt Wallis' Alpine Helicopters R44 Robinson helicopter, similar to the one pictured, that crashed into Lake Wanaka on Saturday will now be examined by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission. Photo: Patrick Weis

The family of Matt Wallis are ''incredibly'' relieved, police say, after his body was found within helicopter wreckage at the bottom of Lake Wanaka late on Monday night.

Derek Shaw
Derek Shaw
About 30 people, including members of the Wallis family, police, navy, coastguard and local iwi were involved in the recovery operation in the Stevensons Arm area of the lake.

Detective Sergeant Derek Shaw said members of the Wallis family ''contributed hugely to the operation''.

''They are grateful. They were a significant part of the operation . . . I can't praise them enough for what they did.''

He said Mr Wallis was removed from the wreckage before a line was attached to lift the wreckage out of the water.

Navy hydrographic specialists had been called at the request of police. They used remotely operated underwater vehicles to scan the lake bed using sonar equipment.

The operation went into the ''early hours'' of yesterday morning to recover a ''significant part'' of the wreckage.

''It took a number of hours due to various difficulties, because of the weight of the machine and the depth that it came up from,'' Det Sgt Shaw said.

''From salvage operators to helicopter pilots to logistical people to LandSAR and experts, they've all contributed hugely. If it wasn't for them, their motivation and a can-do attitude then we may not have had the successful outcome that we did get in the early hours [yesterday morning].''

The matter will now be referred to the coroner.

Mr Wallis' brothers posted an emotional tribute to their sibling yesterday afternoon.

On Minaret Station's Facebook page in a letter from Jonathan, Nick and Toby Wallis to ''our industry friends and colleagues'' the brothers said Matt was ''one of four very tight brothers''.

''We worked closely and laughed loudly together.

''Matthew left a lasting impression on everyone he met. His warm character and huge smile filled a room. He always took the time to make others feel special.''

They said Matt played a critical role in the development and operations of the brothers' Minaret Station tourism business, and said ''he would be furious'' if they did not continue the legacy he helped create at the station.

''As so many of you know first hand, he was passionate about providing guests from all corners of the globe with the most quintessential of New Zealand experiences. He was an exceptional host and a highly skilled outdoorsman.''

They thanked everyone involved in the recovery efforts, including the ''huge number'' of volunteers, including many of Matt's friends.

Their focus was now on supporting Matt's wife, Alice, and 5-year-old son Arthur.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has already begun its investigation.

Air accident investigator Ian McClelland said it was ''very early on in the inquiry'' but the ''significant damage'' to the wreckage showed Mr Wallis' helicopter had fallen from ''some height''.

He said a preliminary examination of the wreckage would be done before it was shipped to Wellington for a ''more detailed examination''.

The helicopter's manufacturer, Robinson, as well as the United States National Transport Safety Board had been informed.

''It is a tragedy and our aim is to try and give [the family] the answers and overall to provide a safer aviation environment.''

Mr McClelland said it was hard to say how long the investigation might take.

sean.nugent@odt.co.nz

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