NZ chopper crashes while erecting tree

2011-11-23 08:56
Wellington - A New Zealand helicopter pilot miraculously escaped injury on Wednesday when his chopper crashed spectacularly and broke up while erecting a giant Christmas tree on the Auckland waterfront.

The helicopter's main rotor clipped a cable as it was about to land, sending the aircraft spinning out of control into a pylon, which sheared off the tail section as nearby workers ran for cover.

Television footage showed the pilot, clad in a fluorescent safety vest, being tossed around the cockpit like a rag doll, appearing to fall out of the chopper's door before his harness snapped him back inside.

The aircraft slammed into the ground, with the cockpit surviving in one piece and the pilot, named in local media as Greg Gribble, walking away with help from two co-workers, who clambered on the wreckage to free him.

Gribble, an experienced chopper pilot with thousands of flying hours, was taken to hospital for precautionary monitoring and later released.

"He was lucky to walk away from this," New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) safety inspector Steve Walker told reporters, adding that it was "extraordinary" no ground staff were hit by flying wreckage.

Gribble was the only person aboard the Eurocopter AS350 B2 Squirrel helicopter, which had been hired by Telecom Corp to erect a 26m high fibre optic Christmas tree on the waterfront.

"Can confirm the helicopter that crashed was putting up our Xmas tree. We're really happy to confirm pilot and ground crew all OK [sic]," Telecom said on its official Twitter feed.

The CAA said it expected a preliminary investigation into the crash to be completed within four weeks.

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