Grieving dad criticises CAA for lack of scrutiny

The crashed helicop
ter on Fox Glacier. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The crashed helicop ter on Fox Glacier. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The father of the Queenstown pilot killed in a crash at Fox Glacier says the Civil Aviation Authority has "a hell of lot to answer for", following apologies from two scenic helicopter bosses.

Mitch Gameren (28) died alongside six tourists when the Alpine Adventures' AS350 Squirrel helicopter he was flying on a scenic trip plunged into a deep crevasse in the glacier on November 21, 2015.

In June 2016, the CAA charged Alpine Adventures managing director and owner James Scott, and quality assurance manager Barry Waterland's company, Aviation Manual Development (2009) Ltd, under the Health and Safety in Employment Act legislation.

Yesterday afternoon, Scott and Aviation Manual Development were sentenced in the Christchurch District Court.

Scott was fined $64,000 by Judge Kevin Phillips.

Aviation Manual Development escaped a fine after the court heard it had no financial means to pay.

Before the sentencing, Scott also made a voluntary reparation payment of $125,000 each to the seven families affected.

Mitch Gameren's father, Paul Gameren, speaking to the Otago Daily Times, said family members were still seeking answers after the court case.

Mr Gameren believed the Civil Aviation Authority had "a hell of a lot to answer for".

"There needs to be some change."

Judge Phillips stressed in court the defendants had entered guilty pleas on the basis that their failings had not caused the crash and resulting tragedy.

The court heard Scott and Aviation Manual Development had accepted eight practicable steps where they failed to ensure the safety of staff and passengers.

Mr Gameren said laying charges was like closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, and the failures identified by the CAA "should have been picked up in their regular audits".

He was awaiting the Transport Accident Investigation Commission Report into the crash.

CAA lawyer Stephanie Bishop said in court Scott and Aviation Manual Development's failure to comply with technical requirements, to have adequate training procedures, weight and balance policy, and proper supervision, had carried a risk of serious harm, namely a helicopter crash.

Scott's operation also had a history of training and supervision issues, Ms Bishop said.

Before the hearing got under way yesterday, the judge took the unusual step of reading aloud all of the victims' names before a moment's silence was observed.

Other victims were Australians Sovannmony Leang (27) and Josephine Gibson (29), UK visitors Cynthia Charlton (70), her husband, Nigel Charlton (66), Andrew Virco (50) and his partner, Katharine Walker (51).

Some overseas family members joined yesterday's court hearing via video link, while others sat in the public gallery.

Ms Walker's brother, speaking from the UK, slammed a "reprehensible" disregard for health and safety and "egregious, systemic failures" by the New Zealand aviation industry.

A friend of the Charlton family called for changes to health and safety rules in the New Zealand adventure tourism industry.

Scott apologised in court, and Waterland's lawyer, Doug Taffs, said Waterland also "bitterly regrets what happened".

Mr Gameren said he was convinced Scott was "devastated" by the crash.

Mr Taffs said Waterland's company would now be wound up, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

A press conference is expected to be held by the CAA on Monday.

- additional reporting by Kurt Bayer

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