Helicopter crash victim's widow subsidises tracking technology
Fri, 27 Feb 2009 12:00a.m.
The death of one of New Zealand's richest businessmen in a helicopter crash in 2005 has led to a big drive to boost the technology used to track aircraft.
The loss of a signal from the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) in liquor baron Michael Erceg's crashed helicopter led to one of the largest searches in New Zealand aviation history.
Now his widow, Lynne Erceg, and aircraft tracking company Spidertracks have teamed up with Airways NZ to subsidise the purchase and subscription costs of satellite tracking devices for owners of New Zealand-registered aircraft.
The transmitters send frequent GPS position for the aircraft so that its position, altitude, direction and speed can be seen on the internet.
Even if a plane crashes and the ELT is disabled the GPS tracking can show where the aircraft was when it fell out of the sky.
In Mr Erceg's case, his downed Eurocopter -- with the pilot and his passenger, Dutch beer company executive Guus Klatte -- remained undiscovered for 15 days near Raglan because the aerial had broken off its beacon.
An official search combed 16,000 square kilometres at a cost of $815,000, and an unofficial search by Mr Erceg's family racked up 975 hours of flying time in 31 helicopters at a cost of $1.5 million.
Paul Fitzharris, of the Search and Rescue Council, said afterwards the distress beacon was serviceable "but on impact, the aerial attached to the fuselage snapped off and no discernable signal emitted".
Mr Erceg's family had expected his ELT would enable the crashed helicopter to be quickly found, but Mr Fitzharris said "very little, if any signal would have been detected even at close range".
The crash heightened interest in use of flight tracking systems, he said.
Civil Aviation Authority records show three instances of ELT aerials breaking off and three others of aerial cables being severed in a crash.
The Airways Corporation said today it was trying to promote ways for general aviation pilots to use a satellite tracking system and have the information available and displayed on a computer at home or at the office.
Every month, Airways deals with an estimated 230 plane overdue on the arrival times given in their flight plans -- most of them false alarms.
In October 2008, Airways surveyed pilot and more than two-thirds of those who replied were interested in obtaining a subsidy for the purchase and initial monitoring of a satellite tracking system.
"We teamed up with Spidertracks and they then approached Michael Erceg's widow Lynne about the possibility of supporting an initiative that could save pilots lives, as well as saving the Rescue Coordination Centre thousands of man-hours in search time," said Airways programme manager Rob Irwin.
Owners of NZ-registered aircraft will be able to buy a subsidised satellite tracking device for $1295 (plus GST) and receive a free keypad -- a package usually priced at $3300.
Airways will pay for the first six months subscription to the satellite network, normally about $US20 a month.
"The conditions and terrain in this country are some of the most challenging in the world," Mr Irwin said.
"There's no doubt that technology is the key to safety for aircraft operating in this environment."
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