TAIC: The Helicopter Line to review safety after four crashes

The helicopter wreckage on Mt Sale in September 2016. Image: TAIC

Queenstown-based The Helicopter Line should review its safety systems after four “serious landing accidents” in three years, says the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

The recommendation came out of the TAIC’s investigation into the latest of those incidents – a 12 September 2016 helicopter crash on Mt Sale, near Queenstown. Five passengers were on the Squirrel helicopter flight and one suffered a minor knee injury.

In its investigation report released yesterday, the TAIC said that the approach to land on Mt Sale was made with a tailwind when the pilot was expecting a crosswind.

“The pilot made a relatively fast, low and close approach to the landing site. This technique might not give pilots enough time to confirm the actual wind before landing, nor does it ensure that their intended escape routes remain useable throughout the approach.”

The investigation found that the helicopter and its engine were working normally, its weight and balance were within its limits, and the pilot had the required training and experience.

But the TAIC said it had “identified a safety issue in that the operator had had four serious landing accidents in three years”.

However, while there were some similarities in the circumstances of the crashes, their causes had not been determined conclusively.

“Therefore the Commission made a recommendation that the chief executive of The Helicopter Line, in consultation with the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority, review The Helicopter Line’s safety management system audit process to ensure that its safety policy, safety assurance, risk management, and promotion of safety are sound.”

Mark Quickfall, chairman of Skyline Enterprises, owner of The Helicopter Line, told the Otago Daily Times that a safety audit review had already begun and he would be meeting with the TAIC next month to discuss it. Quickfall said the pilot involved in the crash no longer worked for the company but he declined to say why.

The TAIC said the key lessons coming out of its inquiry were that pilots remained vigilant for changes in environmental conditions and that the loss of the emergency locator transmitter antenna during the crash demonstrated the need for an alternative means of independent, real-time flight tracking.

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