Nine dead after small plane crashes in New Zealand

Monday, September 6, 2010

Nine people died in New Zealand after a small tourist plane crashed on Saturday afternoon on the West Coast of the South Island, killing all on board. The aircraft, a Fletcher FU24 owned by a local sky diving company, crashed and caught fire at 13:15 local time soon after taking off from the Fox Glacier Airport to carry out tandem skydiving over the Fox Glacier. The cause of the accident is not yet known, but the plane banked, dipped, smashed nose-first into the ground, and burst into flames.

There were four overseas tourists on the plane, from Australia, England, Germany, and Ireland. The five New Zealanders were the pilot and four divemasters. Police spokeswoman Detective Sergeant Jackie Adams said that the victims were so badly burned that members of the police disaster team had to be called in to assist. She was trying to track a group of tourists who were to have gone on the flight, but wanted to go together as a group so let those who died go ahead of them.

The plane crash was the worst in New Zealand for nearly 17 years. The regional coroner Richard McElrea was travelling to the crash scene to begin inquiries, and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission has dispatched a team of six investigators. The probes may take a year to complete. There was a similar crash near Fox Glacier when a helicopter crashed killing seven people in October 1994, and a crash near the nearby Franz Josef Glacier in October 1993 which killed 9 people. Because of the earthquake in Christchurch the bodies had to be sent to the Auckland morgue rather than the nearer Christchurch morgue.