Two Australians die in NZ chopper crash

The wreckage of the helicopter. Photo / NZ Police
The wreckage of the helicopter. Photo / NZ Police


Police have released the names of all the other people believed to have died in the Fox Glacier helicopter crash.

They were:

Andrew Virco, Cambridge, UK, aged 50
Katharine Walker, Cambridge, UK, aged 51
Nigel Edwin Charlton, Hampshire, UK, aged 66
Cynthia Charlton, Hampshire, UK, aged 70
Leang Sovannmony, South Australia, aged 27
Josephine Gibson, South Australia, aged 29

Police spokeswoman Barbara Dunn confirmed the recovery operation was underway on Fox Glacier.

"The operation is extremely challenging and the safety of those working at the scene is of paramount importance."

She said police were trying to make as much progress as possible, while a break in the weather allowed.

Inspector John Canning told Radio New Zealand the priority was getting the bodies of those who perished back to their families.

EARLIER: RECOVERY teams are on standby at Fox Glacier this morning awaiting an opportunity to get to the site of yesterday's helicopter crash.

Mitch Gameren, 28, died with his passengers - believed to be two Australian and four British visitors - when the Alpine Adventures' aircraft they were in crashed into a heavily crevassed area.

Police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Sean Judd said he was hopeful some progress would be made today.

Police were last night trying to contact the tourists' next-of-kin.

Yesterday, Inspector John Canning said the crash scene was covered in heavy cloud and recovery would probably take some days.

The crash site was about 2500ft (760m) up the glacier.

Debris was spread over several hundred metres of deep ice crevices, with wreckage of the seven-seater Eurocopter Squirrel helicopter wedged between house-sized blocks of ice. A dark scorch mark is also visible over the area where the helicopter made impact with the glacier.

Tributes flowed last night for the young pilot.

Gameren's step-father Kelly Bray remembered him as an "all-round good guy".

"He loved the outdoors. He enjoyed the West Coast because he liked the hunting and fishing side of it."

Mitch Gameren and six tourists died when his helicopter slammed into Fox Glacier. Photo / Greymouth Star
Mitch Gameren and six tourists died when his helicopter slammed into Fox Glacier. Photo / Greymouth Star

Gameren was brought up in Queenstown and had flown in Botswana for three years. He returned to New Zealand after six months flying medivac missions in Malaysia.

Bray said his step-son, who had been back on the West Coast for only about a month, was very safety-conscious.

"We've had heaps of conversations about not taking risks. We'd like to think he was super cautious."

Bray said the family was hoping the bodies of all seven on board would be recovered today. Family were travelling from other parts of New Zealand to support Gameren's family in Queenstown.

Family, friends and colleagues posted numerous online tributes for Gameren last night.

Friend and fellow pilot Jamie Henery posted on Facebook: "For those who have been asking I am okay. Very sad day. For we have lost a good man and friend. Please excuse me if I do not call back or respond."

Christina Olayan wrote: "He was my hero! And will be for an long time to come! Love you like a brother Mitch!"

"Bro, I'm choked up. Love that guy. Love you too man. No words," added Evan McWhirter.

Canning said the pilot was well known in the West Coast community, adding "these times are tough".

Canning said recovery of the wreckage and the bodies was not going to be easy, and could take several days. A recovery team - including specialist police staff and Alpine Rescue Team members - will fly to the crash site this morning, weather permitting.

Canning said conditions were too murky and dangerous to consider a recovery operation yesterday.

Earlier in the day a paramedic and members of an Alpine Rescue Team were winched down to the crash site but found no survivors.

Three officials from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission also arrived in Fox Glacier last night.

Commission spokesman Peter Northcote said a fourth team member would arrive this morning. The group will meet police and Alpine Rescue officials before attempting to reach the crash site.

"There are significant safety and access aspects to this operation. We need to put together a very careful plan."

The downed chopper was reported missing shortly before 11am, when Alpine Adventures alerted the Rescue Co-ordination Centre the Squirrel's emergency locator beacon had been activated. Four rescue helicopters were dispatched to Fox Glacier.

Alpine Adventures spokesman Quentin Arnold told the Herald on Sunday the company would carry out its own investigation.

"We don't know why [the helicopter crashed], we don't know how."

The company operates scenic flights over Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and employs nine pilots and up to 17 ground crew, office staff and management.

It has been operating flights for 20 years. Rob Jewell, chairman of the Glacier Country Tourism Group, said the local community was shocked at the crash and their thoughts were with the families of those who died.

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