N.Zealand tourist plane crash dead identified

September 5, 2010 12:00 am

, WELLINGTON, Sep 5 – New Zealand police Sunday named nine people, including four foreigners, killed in a skydiving plane crash, as investigators said it could be over a year before the cause of the accident was known.

In the nation\’s worst air accident in 17 years, the aircraft crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff on Saturday at an airstrip near the Fox Glacier tourist spot on the rugged west coast of New Zealand\’s South Island. There were no survivors.

The Fletcher FU24 turbine-powered plane, operated by tourism company Skydive New Zealand, was carrying a pilot, four skydive instructors and four tourists.

Police named the tourists as Patrick Byrne, 26, from County Wexford, Ireland; Glen Bourke, 18, from Melbourne, Australia; Annita Kirsten, 23, from Germany; and Brad Coker, 24, from Farnborough in the United Kingdom.

The New Zealanders who died were pilot Chaminda Senadhira, 33, and skydiving instructors Adam Bennett, 47, Michael Suter, 32, Christopher McDonald, 62, and Rodney Miller, 55, from Greymouth.

Coroner Richard McElrea said the bodies could not be taken to Christchurch, the nearest major city, because it remained in a state of emergency after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Saturday. Instead, they will be flown to Auckland.

"There will be matters of identification which may involve dentistry," he said.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) staff said Sunday they were unable to fly to the crash due to bad weather but hoped to sift through the wreckage Monday after driving to the airstrip.

Police said the plane crashed at the end of the runway then burst into flames. Witnesses said it was briefly airborne before crashing.

Locals described conditions on Saturday as apparently perfect for skydiving near the glacier, a central attraction in the UNESCO-designated World Heritage area.

The head of the TAIC team, Ian McClelland, refused to speculate on the cause of the crash and said a report on the incident may not be ready for between nine and 15 months.

McClelland said the light aircraft did not have a "black box" flight recorder or voice recorder.

"But given the availability of the other evidence that is likely to be forthcoming, we are pretty confident we can identify most if not all of the contributing factors," he said.

The disaster was the worst air tragedy in New Zealand since nine people died in a plane crash in October 1993 at nearby Franz Josef Glacier.

The following year, seven people died when a sightseeing helicopter crashed near Fox Glacier, and in 2003 a chartered Piper Navajo Chieftain crashed on landing near Christchurch in 2003, killing eight people.

The west coast of New Zealand\’s South Island attracts thousands of tourists annually, brought to the area by the stunning mountain scenery and fjords.

Travellers, many of them from abroad, support a burgeoning tourism industry catering for a range of interests, including high-adrenaline sports and trekking.



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