Grieving relatives cast blame for air crash

August 15th, 2012

AMY GLASS/Fairfax NZ

SEPTEMBER 4 TRAGEDY: Fox Glacier fire chief John Sullivan, who was first on the scene of the Fox Glacier plane crash.

DEIDRE MUSSEN/Fairfax NZMOURNING MOTHER: Adam Bennett’s mother, Pamela Bennett, tells the Fox Glacier air disaster inquest about her son.

Relatives of the Fox Glacier plane crash victims have told an inquest of their devastation at the loss of loved ones.

The inquest into the crash on September 4, 2010, opened in Greymouth yesterday.

The accident happened less than nine hours after Christchurch’s magnitude-7.1 earthquake, which overshadowed the crash at the time.

those killed included Skydive New Zealand director and tandem dive master Rod Miller, 55, of Greymouth; pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, of Queenstown; and dive masters Adam Bennett, 47, from Australia but living in Motueka, Michael Suter, 32, of New Plymouth, and Christopher McDonald, 62, of Mapua.

The tourists who died were Patrick Byrne, 26, of Ireland; Glenn Bourke, 18, of Australia; Annika Kirsten, 23, of Germany; and Brad Coker, 24, of England.

Family members of many of the dead addressed the court, some criticising New Zealand’s aviation industry and regulations for failing to ensure the safety of their loved ones.

a letter by the German backpacker’s parents, Susanne and Werner Schmidt-Kirsten, was read to the court and expressed their agony at losing their only child.

they said their “beautiful and talented daughter” was burnt to death when the plane exploded into a fireball.

they learned of the crash when reading a newspaper that had a small article about the Canterbury earthquake and briefly mentioned a plane crash had killed nine people, including someone from their German home town.

they blamed the Civil Aviation Authority for failing to adequately supervise the industry and Skydive New Zealand for acting negligently.

Wellington Crown solicitor Grant Burston, who is assisting the coroner for the inquest, read a letter by Coker’s parents, who called the crash preventable.

they noted the Government had introduced extra controls on skydiving as a result of the crash.

“There have been without doubt major failings by the Civil Aviation Authority and there were major failings by the aircraft operators.”

they said the plane had been flown out of balance and overloaded 75 times, which meant such an accident was an “inevitable certainty”.

they called for law changes to ensure “proper responsibility” to those who were involved, saying there was no accountability in New Zealand.

Adam Bennett’s mother, Pamela, told the inquest it was hard for her family to express their grief over their loss.

An adventurous man, Bennett was a base jumper as well as a skydiver and mountaineer : “He always said skydiving and base jumping were safe, extreme but safe.”

Aviation expert Barry Payne, who wrote a report on the crash, told the inquest the plane’s manual was inadequate for its use in skydiving, particularly in working out its centre of gravity.

Safety-critical information, such as the weight and balance data, should have been corrected in the manual when CAA certified it for skydiving.

a Transport Accident Investigation Commission report in may highlighted similar concerns.

Miller’s two sons called for people to hold judgment until the inquest was complete.

“My father was totally safety conscious in everything he did,” Flynn Miller said. “He would have been devastated with the disaster and the loss of so many lives. We miss him very much and wish history could rewrite itself.”

– © Fairfax NZ News

Grieving relatives cast blame for air crash

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