Pilot's death ruled accident after six years

Noel Wilson, known as "Grumbles", pictured flying his helicopter. Wilson died after crashing a...
Noel Wilson, known as "Grumbles", pictured flying his helicopter. Wilson died after crashing a Robinson R22 in March 2017. Photo: Facebook
A six-year investigation into a helicopter crash that killed a West Coast man has come to a close, with a coroner expressing an unreserved apology for the delay.

Described by his family as resourceful, professional, and diligent, Noel Edward Wilson was not only a committed son but also a highly skilled pilot.

On March 27, 2017, Wilson offered a paid hunting trip to a friend and client from Australia, Alan Longmuir and after a few hours of socialising, pre-flight checks, and safety briefings, the duo departed by helicopter around 5.40pm.

Over the next hour, they successfully hunted a stag and pig and Wilson agreed to fly the carcasses back to Reefton and return to pick up his client.

But around 6.30pm, after hooking the carcasses to a rope attached to the helicopter Wilson, 51, crashed over densely forested terrain. He died instantly.

The news of his death sent shockwaves through the small West Coast community of Reefton for the popular man who had recently found love in a new relationship.

Wilson had no known medical issues and his son, Travis Wilson, attested to always feeling safe when flying with his father. Toxicology reports returned also found no trace of drugs or alcohol in his system.

Wilson was flying a Robinson R22 at the time of his death. Robinson helicopters were involved in 49 per cent of accidents across New Zealand.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) put Robinsons on its watchlist in 2016, the highest alert it can give.

Under the Coroners Act 2006, a coronial inquiry was initiated to establish the facts surrounding Wilson’s death and Coroner Ian Telford conducted a hearing on the papers - which is without an inquest. His decision was released today.

James Patterson-Gardner, pictured with his mother, renowned helicopter pilot Louisa (Choppy)...
James Patterson-Gardner, pictured with his mother, renowned helicopter pilot Louisa (Choppy) Patterson. Her son died when a Robinson helicopter crashed in Queenstown in 2015 and a coroner made the same recommendations. Photo: Supplied
Investigations led by police and TAIC were conducted with the TAIC returning a number of findings that were criticised by others in the helicopter industry.

The TAIC report identified factors such as inadvertent contact with the tree canopy, low rotor speed, environmental conditions, and inadequate maintenance as potential contributors to the crash.

"The circumstances surrounding the accident suggested that the helicopter and/or the load inadvertently made contact with the tree canopy, or the pilot was unable to maintain sufficient clearance from the tree canopy," the TAIC report said.

TAIC also found the engine showed signs of wear and tear that were inconsistent with the hours recorded in the logbook.

Helicopter pilot and friend of Wilson, Kieran Heney, was critical of the TAIC findings prompting the coroner to commission a further opinion from helicopter expert, John Fogden.

"Mr Fogden refers me to several previous coronial inquiries in which the coroner has made recommendations to the Secretary of Transport promoting the need for the mandatory fitment of cockpit video recorder systems in helicopters," Coroner Telford said.

His findings drew parallels with another helicopter crash inquiry conducted by Coroner Alexandra Cunninghame in 2015 that found issues with the design of Robinson helicopters, and recommended mandatory cockpit video recorder systems (CVRS).

"Coroner Cunningham recommended that the Civil Aviation Authority and TAIC seek the involvement of stakeholders including the Ministry of Transport and prioritise the implementation of a programme of work to achieve the mandating of CVRS in all helicopters in New Zealand," Coroner Telford wrote.

"The coroner also recommended that all owners and operators of helicopters in New Zealand install CVRS devices as soon as reasonably practicable (ie. before it is made mandatory). I wholeheartedly reiterate and endorse those recommendations."

Fogden concluded that any further inquiry was unlikely to bring additional clarity to the circumstances of Wilson’s death, given the absence of eyewitnesses to the crash.

Coroner Telford ruled Wilson’s death an accident and expressed his deepest condolences to the friends and family of Noel Wilson.

"I have determined that Mr Wilson died of injuries sustained in a helicopter crash. The manner of death is accidental.

"I apologise unreservedly for the delay in bringing this coronial inquiry to a conclusion."