2015 Fox Glacier helicopter crash
|Date||21 November 2015|
|Site||Fox Glacier, New Zealand|
|Aircraft type||Eurocopter AS350|
|Flight origin||Fox Glacier Airstrip|
|Destination||Fox Glacier Airstrip|
Alpine Adventures were the owner and operator of the helicopter. James Patrick Scott was the companies owner and had over 30 years of experience operating helicopters, and the company was a member of the Aviation Industry Association and the Mt Cook & Westland National Parks User Aviation Group.
A few months before the Fox Glacier crash on 27 June 2015 another Alpine Adventures helicopter, a Hughes 369 carrying two hunters and piloted by Brad Maclachlan, crashed near Harihari. McLachlan was seriously injured and the two hunters on board had minor injuries.
At the time of the crash (about 11 am NZDT), it was reported to be heavily overcast and raining. The aircraft crashed into a crevasse approximately 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) up Fox Glacier. According to Alpine Adventures' quality assurance manager, Barry Waterland, the helicopter crashed just after taking off from the glacier at a designated spot called The Chancellor.
Early reports based on the size of the debris field and scorch marks in the hillside above the crash site were thought to indicate that the helicopter had crashed before falling into the glacier. The helicopter did not have a transponder or black box. No mayday call was made suggesting a sudden catastrophic event.
The pilot, 28-year-old New Zealand citizen Mitchell Paul Gameren, was described as "experienced" with over 3,000 hours of flying. He had had flying experience in both Malaysia and Botswana. Gameren's interest in flying began when he was five, when his mother worked at Southern Lakes Helicopters. He was able to fly fixed winged aircraft by the time he was 17 and then began flying helicopters. From 2011 to 2014, he flew helicopters in Botswana.
The day following the crash four bodies were recovered from the site, but operations were suspended due to worsening weather conditions. The police announced that a further attempt would be made on Wednesday that week. The area where the helicopter crashed was described as highly treacherous, uneven, and moving ice, with 20-metre crevasses. The blocks of ice were described as bigger than buildings.
The weather cleared for an hour on 25 November allowing recovery teams consisting of Police, Alpine Cliff Rescue, and drone operators to land on the glacier. The drone then filmed the site before the weather again closed in. The remaining three bodies and most of the wreckage were recovered from the crash site on 26 November.
In late March 2016 more parts were recovered from the crash site by professional mountaineers employed by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC). The parts had become visible due to snow melt during the summer months.
In November 2015 TAIC advised that it could take until May 2017 for its Chief investigator of accidents Captain Tim Burfoot to complete the investigation into the cause of the crash. The recovered wreckage of the helicopter was taken to TAIC's Wellington site for evaluation. The father of one of the victims of the 2010 New Zealand Fletcher FU24 crash expressed a lack of confidence in TAIC's ability to properly investigate the crash based on destruction of evidence from that crash and New Zealand's lax approach to air safety.
Local news reports stated that the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand (CAA) had received a complaint a few days prior to the crash about the lack of landing markers on the glacier.
At 4:30pm on Friday, 28 May 2016 the CAA suspended the Air Operating Certificate of James Patrick Scott of Alpine Adventures over operational safety concerns. CAA Director Graeme Harris said, The action taken did not in any way pre-determine the outcome of the investigation (into the 2015 helicopter crash) to be carried out. Scott operated Fox and Franz Heliservices, Tekapo Helicopters, and Makarora Helicopters. TAIC advised that its investigation into the crash was now up to analyzing the environment and Alpine Adventures.
One week later, on 3 June the CAA charged Scott and his Organisational System Manager Barry Waterland under Health and Safety legislation at the Greymouth District Court. The case was to be called on 12 July 2016, but was adjourned until early September 2016. By 6 July the CAA advised that the operating licence of James Patrick Scott had been surrendered. Scott and Waterland plead not guilty to the Health and Safety charges, with them being remanded until 30 September.
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