Aviation AO-2008-007

Robinson Helicopter Company, R22 Alpha ZK-HXR, loss of control, Lake Wanaka, 1 November 2008
Status: Closed
Legacy Inquiry Number: 
08-007
Occurrence Date: 
1 November 2008
Report Publication Date: 
5 August 2010
Jurisdiction: NZ
On 1 November 2008, a Robinson Helicopter Company R22 helicopter registered ZK-HXR, which was being flown from Haast to Wanaka with the pilot only on board, did not arrive at the Wanaka aerodrome for an intended refuel. Efforts to locate the helicopter began promptly and items from the helicopter were soon found floating in Lake Wanaka, about 22 kilometres north-west of the aerodrome. Most of the fuselage of ZK-HXR, along with the deceased pilot, was retrieved from the lake bed 4 days after the accident, but some key components were not recovered.
There were no witnesses to the accident, although about 6 minutes before the estimated time of the accident the pilot had flown past a barge being skippered by a friend. Telephone company records showed that in the next few minutes the pilot had received and sent cellphone text messages, including one sent close to the estimated time of the accident to the barge skipper.
The wreckage showed that a mast bump had occurred prior to the helicopter impacting on the water. The mast bump likely followed a low-G condition caused by turbulence, or perhaps some other undetermined event. Anecdotes suggested the pilot had a preference for flying fast, which would have exacerbated the reaction of the helicopter to a low-G condition. If the pilot had been preoccupied with his cellphone, he would have had less time to take the appropriate recovery action.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (the Commission) has previously reported on accidents where cellphone use by a pilot or vessel skipper might have been a contributing factor and made safety recommendations to the relevant regulatory authorities. No new safety recommendation has been made.
(Note: this executive summary condenses content to highlight key points to the reader and does so in simple English with less technical precision than the remainder of the report to ensure its accessibility to a non-expert reader. Expert readers should refer to and rely on the body of the full report.)
Location: 
Lake Wanaka (-44.5373,169.1276) [may be approximate]