Pushing for change leaves widow exhausted

Jerome and Adelle Box. Jerome died in the 2014 Mount Alta helicopter crash Photo: Supplied
Jerome and Adelle Box. Jerome died in the 2014 Mount Alta helicopter crash. Photo: Supplied
The widow of a helicopter passenger who died in a crash near Wanaka is worn out from doing all she can to prevent heartbreak for other families.

"I’ve given up on the New Zealand system, to be honest," Adelle Box, whose husband was killed on the slopes of Mt Alta in a helicopter crash in 2014, said.

"It’s like pushing a barrow full of cement uphill for a long time."

A coroner’s report into the death of Auckland construction company director and father-of-two Jerome Box (52) was released yesterday and it included no specific recommendations for changes to the industry.

Coroner Sue Johnson said the helicopter firm, Queenstown’s The Helicopter Line, and the Civil Aviation Authority had made changes since the crash.

Mr Box died from high-energy impact injuries to his chest, spine and head due to being ejected during a helicopter crash into mountain terrain, she found.

The death was accidental, she ruled.

However, the coroner found some of the firm’s pre-flight procedures were inadequate and pilot Dave Matthews miscalculated both the weight on board and the landing.

The pilot and five passengers survived the crash.

Mr Box and four of his friends were heli-skiing or heli-boarding in the Mt Aspiring National Park area on August 16, 2014, and the second run for the day was to start close to the summit of Mt Alta.

A guide accompanied the group of friends.

The Squirrel helicopter approached the landing site just before noon, but it struck the steep, snow-clad slope and rolled 300m down the mountain.

Mr Box died at the scene.

The Helicopter Line was sentenced in the Queenstown District Court in March 2019 on two charges laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act by the Civil Aviation Authority.

It was fined $47,600 and paid $365,000 in reparation, including $165,000 to the Box family.

The conclusion of the coroner’s inquest came after that prosecution and an investigation from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

The coroner apologised for the length of time it took to conclude her inquiry.

Although she had sought specific recommendations from the coroner, and this had not happened, Mrs Box said she understood Ms Johnson had worked within narrow parameters.

Mrs Box said contributing to investigations was cathartic, but she was disappointed, overall.

"I do feel, as a country, that we don’t make people fully accountable," she said.

"I’m tired of the whole experience of trying to be heard.

"I gave it my best shot.

"Our lives will never be the same. For us, the fallout continues."

In its 2017 report, the TAIC highlighted a culture of pilots pushing aircraft to their limits.

"The helicopter was loaded 30kg over the maximum permissible weight ... and was operating at or close to the performance limit for hovering in this situation."

It was also not fitted with any equipment to record data.

The coroner commented the pilot accepted estimates about the weights of passengers, but did not add 4kg each for clothing and boots.

Less fuel would have been on board if correct calculations had been made.

Among changes made by the helicopter firm was that passengers were now weighed before flights.

Mrs Box was puzzled the company had not made simple changes before the crash.

"This could have been prevented."

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

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