CAA strips South Island heli company's licence after fatal crash

The Squirrel helicopter in the crevasse on Fox Glacier
The Squirrel helicopter in the crevasse on Fox Glacier

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has suspended a South Island helicopter company's licence that was involved in the Fox Glacier crash which killed seven people.

Managing director fro Alpine Adventures, James Scott, confirmed to Newshub today all 15 of his helicopters were grounded due to a suspension he received on Friday night.

Quality assurance manager for Alpine Adventures Barry Waterland says the 10-day suspension is for the businesses operating under the umbrella trading name of James P Scott, which included Alpine Adventures involved in the glacier crash. 

The Squirrel helicopter, on a tourist flight on November 21 2015, crashed into a crevassed area of the 13km-long Fox Glacier, killing six tourists and 28-year-old Kiwi pilot Mitch Gamerman.

It was several days before the bodies and some of the wreckage could be recovered. In April this year further wreckage was recovered, including belly panels and helicopter fragments.

Mr Scott operates businesses under the names Alpine Adventures, Fox Glacier Heliservices, Franz Josef Heliservices, Tekapo Helicopters and Kaikoura Helicopters. The suspension affects the company's bases at Franz Josef, Fox Glacier, Haast, Makarora, Whataroa and Tekapo, Mr Waterland says. 

Mr Waterland says the company will work with the CAA to get its certificate back, but wouldn't go into detail as to why it was suspended. He was confident the licence would be reissued within the 10 days. 

He says it relates to the Fox Glacier accident, but the suspension has come at an unexpected time.

"There have been meetings with pilots and staff to ensure them that we are doing everything we possibly can to get back in the air again," Mr Waterland says.

The company was being supported by other operators who were flying customers booked for travel while its licence has been suspended.

Mr Waterland wasn't sure what the financial cost would be to the company; however, Mr Scott says it will affect his business greatly.

CAA director Graeme Harris confirmed he has "suspended the Air Operating Certificate (AOC) of Mr Scott under the provisions of Section 17 of the Civil Aviation Act, while the CAA investigates concerns it has about the safety of the operation". 

Mr Harris says the suspension was taken in the public interest while his doubts about the safety of the operation were resolved.

"The action taken did not in any way pre-determine the outcome of the investigation to be carried out," he says. 

Prime Minister John Key told Newshub the suspension demonstrates to tourists the CAA takes their responsibility seriously. 

Mr Scott is waiting for further information from the CAA, but is hoping to have the licence reissued in the next few days.

Alpine Adventures has operated since the early 1980's and currently employs nine pilots with 11 helicopters. 

The inquiry into the crash is still continuing and expected to be completed no earlier than May 2017.


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