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DOC ceases using Robinson helicopters

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 1/11/2016

The Department of Conservation has stopped using the model of helicopter involved in a crash that killed two Northland forestry workers this week.

Allan Jessop, 42, and Derek Hammond, 49, died when the Robinson R44 helicopter they were in crashed in the Glenbervie Forest, north of Whangarei on Monday.

On Wednesday, the Department of Conservation announced it had suspended use of all Robinson models over the accident.

"The safety of our people is paramount so in light of the recent accident we are suspending the use of these helicopters for operations where DOC staff, volunteers and contractors are passengers," DOC health and safety director Harry Maher said.

He said the department would review its position as more information came out from a Civil Aviation Authority investigation into Monday's crash.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said banning the Robinson helicopter was "unwarranted" at this time and while DOC made the decision that was right for them he wasn't aware of any other government departments seeking to do the same.

"I think they are safe if operated within the guidelines and the framework that are there. They have certain limitations around mast bumping but the training that pilots should be doing in this area, if they stick within that training, then there shouldn't be the issues," he said.

"To have some sort of wholesale ban would be unwarranted on the evidence that we've got at the moment."

Just last week, the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, which can make safety recommendations to the transport sector, added the Robinson to its watchlist of most pressing concerns.

It said since 1996, aviation officials have investigated 14 "mast bumping" crashes involving Robinson helicopters, costing the lives of 18 people.

Mast bumping is where the inner part of the main rotor blade hits the drive shaft in low-gravity flight.

There are about 300 Robinson R22, R44 and R66 helicopters flying in New Zealand, or about 40 per cent of the country's fleet.

Earlier this year, the commission flagged mast bumping in its report into the deaths of flight student James Patterson Gardner, 18, and instructor Steven Combe, 42, near Queenstown last year.

The victims' families blamed the helicopter design but Robinson said the low-G was caused by pilot error.

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