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Monday, September 6, 2010

Fox Clacier Crashes on it's way to Hokitika

Transport accident investigators are confident they will find "most, if not all", of the reasons for the Fox Glacier plane crash, despite fire causing massive damage to the aircraft.

A team of six investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC), with the regional coroner Richard McElrea, was trying to fly to Hokitika to get to the crash scene today and begin and inquiries.

Hokitika airport was still open while the team was at Christchurch Airport this afternoon but wild weather closing in on the West Coast could mean the team would have to travel by road to reach the scene where nine people died yesterday.

The pilot, four other New Zealand-based men and four overseas tourists who had been about to go skydiving, died in the crash, which happened at the end of the runway at Fox Glacier Airport at 1.15pm.

Police named the victims as pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, from Queenstown, and dive masters Adam Bennett, 47, from Australia but living in Moteuka, Michael Suter, 32, from New Plymouth, Christopher McDonald, 62, from Mapua, and Rodney Miller, 55 from Greymouth.

Investigator in charge Ian McClelland said time at the scene today could be limited, with darkness falling about 7pm, but a full site investigation would take place tomorrow.The four tourists who died were Patrick Byrne, 26, from County Wexford, Ireland; Glen Bourke, 18, from Coburg, Victoria, Australia; Annita Kirsten, 23, from Germany; and Brad Coker, 24, from Farnborough, England.

Some crashes had to be investigated with no survivors, no witnesses, and no wreckage.

In this case, all nine aboard the plane were killed, but there were witnesses and the wreckage of the Fletcher FU24 would be sifted for clues that remained from the fire that consumed the aircraft.

The aircraft was not required to have a flight recorder, or voice recorder, and did not have these devices aboard.

"But given the availability of the other evidence that is likely to be forthcoming, we are pretty confident we can identify most if not all of the contributing factors," Mr McClelland said.

He would not speculate on possible causes of the crash which took place near the Fox Glacier airstrip soon after take-off.

The plane was a former topdressing aircraft which had been modified for skydiving operations. It had a type of turbo-prop engine which was different to the usual combination. The type of aircraft had been used for skydiving for a number of years with considerable success.

It was the only aircraft that the operator had at Fox Glacier.

The investigation team would immediately examine "volatile evidence" which would deteriorate quickly, and would reinterview witnesses who had already been spoken to by the police.

"We will interview them separately and ask some of the more specialist questions," he said.

If there were airworthiness issues that arose from the investigation, they would be referred to the Civil Aviation Authority "within hours", but the average time for release of a public report into a crash was between nine and 15 months, Mr McClelland said.

Mr McElrea said the bodies of the nine victims would not be brought to Christchurch because of the state of emergency that was in force in the city following yesterday's massive earthquake.

Instead, they would be taken to the Auckland mortuary to be examined by specialist forensic pathologists and back-up forensic staff.

"There will be matters of identification which may involve dentistry," he said today.

Liaison would take place through the relevant embassies for the release of the bodies to the families of the four overseas victims.

A tent had been placed over the crash scene to protect it from the extreme weather predicted for the West Coast, Mr McElrea said. The MetService was predicting 120mm of rain in the area, and 280mm to 320mm in the headwaters.

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