News

Skydiving plane overload contributed to nine deaths

None of the passengers were restrained, which probably resulted in "load-shift" as passengers slid to the rear of the aircraft during the ascent, throwing it off its centre of gravity. Photo / Sarah Ivey
None of the passengers were restrained, which probably resulted in "load-shift" as passengers slid to the rear of the aircraft during the ascent, throwing it off its centre of gravity. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A SKYDIVING plane carrying nine people was over the allowable weight limit and unbalanced when it plummeted to the ground and burst into flames, killing everyone aboard, a coroner has found.

Horrified onlookers could do nothing for the four tourists and five Skydive NZ staff on board the Walter Fletcher FU24 which crashed into a paddock near the Fox Glacier airstrip shortly after taking off on September 4, 2010, in one of the country's worst aviation disasters.

Coroner Richard McElrea concluded that the aircraft was overloaded and off-balance.

This, coupled with some unknown factor - possible engine malfunction, control column failure, or inadvertent pilot error - probably accounted for the loss of control, he said.

However, it was unlikely the cause of the crash would ever be fully understood.

Killed in the crash were Patrick Michael Byrne, 26, of Ireland; Glenn James Bourke, 18, of Australia; Annika Charlotte Kirsten, 23, of Germany; Bradley Victor Coker, 24, of England; skydive masters Adam Bennett, 47, Michael John Suter, 32, Christopher McDonald, 62, Rod Clifford Miller, 55, of Greymouth; and the pilot, Chaminda Nalin Senadhira, 33, of Queenstown.

Mr McElrea found all nine died from blunt force injuries.

David Baldwin, a commercial pilot and aviation examiner, described seeing the aircraft in a "near vertical climb" at about 25m to 30m followed by a stall turn to the left and a brief vertical descent. It briefly managed to pull its wings level before crashing.

Helicopter pilot Andrew Gutsell said the aircraft gained altitude with the nose lifting in a "text book stall" at about 60m when it plummeted, without sufficient airspeed, and crashed, left wing first.

None of the passengers were restrained, which probably resulted in "load-shift" as passengers slid to the rear of the aircraft during the ascent, throwing it off its centre of gravity. Eight of the bodies were found in the tail section.

Mr McElrea recommended passenger restraints for tandem parachuting operations be urgently considered across the industry. He also recommended similar aircraft used for parachute operations be restricted to six people and the pilot.

Mr McElrea said it was likely the aircraft was above its allowable weight limit by some 67kg.

The operator had been unaware that, after its conversion from an agricultural plane, the centre of gravity had moved backwards by 5cm.

"It is clear on the evidence that load-shift forces that occurred when the aircraft was in operation were an essential element in the crash," Mr McElrea said. "The more aft [behind] the centre of gravity, the less the stability of the aircraft."

It was possible the pilot's control column had been broken, or else a loose object in the cockpit had jammed the pitch control mechanism, although these would be rare events.

Mr McElrea said Chaminda Senadhira had a good reputation as a pilot, however, a pilot-related factor could not be ruled out.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said he would have a "very good look" at the coroner's recommendations and saw no reason why it should not be made mandatory for passengers on skydiving trips to wear restraints.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission also investigated the crash and found two of the commercial skydivers on board had cannabis in their systems. Mr McElrea said this would not have contributed to the outcome.

PM backs improvements

Prime Minister John Key is committed to improving safety in the adventure tourism industry and his Government will consider recommendations made by the coroner investigating the Fox Glacier tragedy.

A spokeswoman for Mr Key yesterday said the Prime Minister continued his "personal commitment" to ensure tourists to New Zealand did not face unnecessary risks.

The industry's reputation has taken a battering in recent years, with questions over the quality of safety standards and cannabis links to people involved in both the Fox Glacier and Carterton balloon tragedies, which together claimed 20 lives.

The revelations that the pilot of the Carterton hot air balloon had cannabis in his system and so too did two skydive masters in the Fox Glacier crash has prompted the Government to consider mandatory drug testing in the tourism industry.

Mr Key last year announced new regulations requiring tourism providers to have stronger processes for dealing with drug and alcohol use.

His spokeswoman yesterday signalled the Prime Minister intended to continue putting pressure on the sector.

Skydive Fox Glacier director Mark Horning said he hoped the reputation of the adventure tourism industry would be partially repaired by the release of the coroner's finding.

The ruling that the cause of the 2010 tragedy was unlikely to ever be fully understood showed the crash was an accident.

- APNZ

Topics:  coroner, editors picks, new zealand, sky diving


Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

A Q&A; with new Tourism Whitsundays CEO

FRESH FACE: Craig Turner is the newly appointed CEO of Tourism Whitsundays. Photo contributed.

Craig Turner is the new CEO of Tourism Whitsundays

TJ: Michael Jackson’s double Conway-bound

HE’S “BAD”: Michael Jackson impersonator ‘TJ’ is coming to Conway.

TJ: Michael Jackson’s double Conway-bound

Extra staff at Telstra for NBN switch

IT'S HERE: The Telstra team at the Whitsunday Plaza store where NBN arrived today. Photo Inge Hansen / Whitsunday Times.

NBN has gone live at Telstra stores.

Latest deals and offers

Olympians heading to Hamilton

TWO Olympic stars, Libby Trickett and Eloise Wellings, will visit Hamilton Island this weekend for the Active Women’s weekend and annual Mother’s Day Classic.

Myer Lasky Drive vandalized

No Caption

People have vandalized a wall at Myer Lasky Drive, Cannonvale

A Q&A; with new Tourism Whitsundays CEO

FRESH FACE: Craig Turner is the newly appointed CEO of Tourism Whitsundays. Photo contributed.

Craig Turner is the new CEO of Tourism Whitsundays

TJ: Michael Jackson’s double Conway-bound

HE’S “BAD”: Michael Jackson impersonator ‘TJ’ is coming to Conway.

TJ: Michael Jackson’s double Conway-bound

Extra staff at Telstra for NBN switch

IT'S HERE: The Telstra team at the Whitsunday Plaza store where NBN arrived today. Photo Inge Hansen / Whitsunday Times.

NBN has gone live at Telstra stores.

What's on in the region this long weekend?

Wintermoon Music Festival, Camerons Pocket, April 30th- May 3rd, 2015. Photo Lee Constable / Daily Mercury

Take a look at what's on in the region this long weekend.

Federal Police Defuse Dance Bomb

Australian Federal Police respond to "threat" in Canberra.

Australian Federal Police respond to "threat" in Canberra.

NSW Police join Dance Challenge

NSW Police show their moves at Manly Wharf.

Manly Wharf is the backdrop to NSW Police running-man dance entry.

Scotland Police accept Dance Challenge

NZ Police doing the running man dance.

Australian Federal Police say watch this space but NT Police feel ignored.

Sales underway at exclusive real estate locations

Funnel Bay, a 55 acre waterfront development, is six minutes from the main street of Airlie Beach. Photo Lucy Smith / Daily Mercury

Residential blocks costing up to $2.25 million

Demand for acreage lots pushes up property prices

Property values in Cooroy have increased 25%

Property values jump in Cooroy and Peachester.

How a sacked real estate agent made $725k in four months

Agent is now under investigation by the industry watchdog