Kēkerengū helicopter crash: Scene blessed as investigators comb wreckage

The scene of yesterday’s fatal helicopter crash north of Kaikōura has been blessed as investigators try to piece together how a family outing turned to tragedy.

North Canterbury pilot Andrew Hamish Davidson, 60, and wife Lin Chen, 39, died when their new helicopter crashed at Kēkerengū – 30km north of Kaikōura – at about 12.40pm.
They had flown to the beach and planned to stop for lunch.

Witnesses said the crash happened as they came in to land – that the aircraft suddenly started to spin, then “nosedived”.

Two of the couple’s children were injured, along with a third child.

After the crash locals rushed to the beach to pull them from the wreckage, first dragging the chopper out of the incoming tide with a tractor.

All three children remain in hospital in Wellington – one in the ICU and two in a stable condition.

Davidson and Chen were from Kaiapoi, also north of Christchurch city. He had just taken ownership of the Eurocopter EC120B machine in October.

The businessman from Ohoka in North Canterbury had set up the helicopter charter company Glenloch Helicopters Ltd a month earlier.

The wreckage remained on the scene today and Transport Accident Investigation Commission investigators arrived late-morning to start piecing together what happened on the fatal outing.

The team scoured the scene, filming and photographing evidence that was strewn from the immediate site of the crash and across part of the beach. They were not able to discuss their work or the process with the Herald.

A police photographer was also at the scene.

Davidson and Chen’s bodies were transported by undertakers last night. It is understood post-mortem examinations will be carried out and information gleaned from those will form part of the final crash report.

There was a steady stream of people wandering down to the site to watch on, take photos and discuss the tragedy.

The Store, Kēkerengū, is open for business after closing early yesterday. Many of the staff there ran onto the stony beach to help seconds after the helicopter crashed.

They were holding up “okay” today but were not speaking to the media about the crash. “The wellbeing of the staff is more important than anything else,” said one woman.

This afternoon staff joined representatives of Ngai Tahu on the beach at a blessing.
They walked the beach, stopping at various points to speak, pray and remember.

They did a special cleansing of the wreckage, passing blessed water to an investigator for him to go to the helicopter and perform that part of the ceremony.

Rescuers were then given a piece of fern, a symbolic acknowledgement of their efforts.

“We are grateful there are survivors,” the kaumatua said. “And that’s down to the first responders.

“This greenery symbolises the support you’ve given this tragedy.

“We must remember the survivors – we hold in our hearts each of these three little sprouts, the little wee children who are still battling.”

The group then moved to the grass where the bodies of Davidson and Chen were carried to wait for the hearses to transport them, sheltered from the wind and away from the mangled metal.

They lay for a time beside the tractor that hauled their machine from the surf, the doors that were ripped off it to get to their children a poignant reminder of the frantic work of the first responders.

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