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.


Topics:  coroner editors picks new zealand sky diving

Stay Connected

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

Dinner with a twist

TOP SHELF: Dirty Dick's theatre restaurant is coming to Proserpine Entertainment Centre.

There is no award Dirty Dick's can't lay claim to.

Festival's attracting the best

ROCKSTAR: International ambassador of Airlie Beach Festival of Music 8 Ball Aitken will take to the stage.

Airlie Beach festival is where it all started for 8 Ball Aitken.

Jake is having a ball as new cruise ambassador

CUTE: Whitsunday Cruise Ambassador Gay Bowden with grandson Jake Bull.

The youngest cruise ship ambassador.

Local Partners

200 construction jobs on offer at Whitsundays solar farm

ABOUT 200 jobs will be offer during the construction of a solar farm in the region according to the State Government.

Community garden set for Palmwoods

Kay Nixon at the Palmwoods Community Gardens will be hosting a launch day and inviting the ecommunity to come along and sign up.

Parcel of land to supply sustainable gardening for community

Barry Gibb is coming to Bluesfest 2017

FANS: Barry Gibb talks to a fan next to a cardboard cutout of his young self.

Aged 70, Gibb has re-launched his solo music career with a new album

Tim Finn headlining at Airlie Beach Music Festival

Music veteran Tim Finn from New Zealand will headline the Airlie Beach Music Festival.

Tim Finn: "It's the kind of festival that artists love"

Britney Spears suffers wardrobe malfunction

Britney Spears suffered a wardrobe malfunction during performance

'You Spin Me Round' hitmaker dies aged 57

Pete Burns

Pete Burns has died aged 57

REVIEW: Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead disgusted me

I'm disgusted by The Walking Dead premiere.

SPOILERS: The Walking Dead premiere disgusted me.

Flick teases intense and entertaining Survivor grand final

Felicity 'Flick' Eggington in a scene from the TV series Australian Survivor.

GOLD Coaster's elimination leaves Lee, El and Kristie in final three

Priscilla concerned people will forget about Elvis

Priscilla Presley source Bang

She says she feels responsible to keep his legacy going

Taylor Swift files lawsuit over alleged groping

Taylor Swift source Bang

Swift has commenced legal action against a DJ over the incident

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

How to fit 100,000 new homes on the Coast

Property, real estate, housing, suburb,  August 2016

Fitting 2m extra people in south-east Qld in 25 years a balance

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June

New $200 million development will create 580 jobs

Cassie And Josh with baby Alfie and daughter Andee. They have bought at new Lennox Head development Epiq.

Majority of new positions will be given to Northern Rivers locals