By Lloyd Burr and Adam Ray
Two instructors of the ‘excessively unbalanced’ skydiving plane that crashed and killed nine people near Fox Glacier in 2010 had taken cannabis, a report has revealed.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its final report into the crash of the Fletcher FU24, which killed four Skydive New Zealand instructors, four tourists on a skydiving trip and a pilot on September 4, 2010.
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The report found two of the tandem skydiving instructors tested positive to taking cannabis – with tests revealing one instructor smoked marijuana within three hours of the flight.
TAIC says the presence of the drug, albeit at low levels, did not contribute to the accident but it was a concern as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules prohibited them from taking performance-impairing drugs.
As a result, the Commission has recommended an alcohol and drug testing regime for those undertaking tasks that are critical to flight safety.
The report states the main reason for the crash was the aircraft being overloaded and exceeding maximum take-off weight. The passengers and crew were distributed unevenly towards the rear and the plane’s centre of gravity was out of its allowable limit by around 30 percent.
This may have caught the pilot unaware and the plane probably became airborne early and at too low a speed to control it from pitching ‘nose-up’.
The plane then reached a pitch angle at which the unrestrained parachutists were unable to stop themselves sliding backwards and this shift in weight toward the back of the plane would have made it even more unstable.
It continued to pitch upward until it was almost vertical, before the left wing dropped and the plane tilted vertically downward and crashed.
It was also revealed the owners of the aircraft used the incorrect amount of fuel reserves, removed the flight manual from the plane and did not devise their own operating procedures before using the plane for skydiving.
The report finds:
• The engineering company that modified the plane from its original agricultural role to a parachuting aircraft did not follow CAA rules.
• Two modifications were for a different aircraft, one belonged to a different design holder and a fourth was not referred to in the aircraft maintenance logbook, however TAIC said the engineering work was appropriately carried out.
• A flaw in the CAA regulatory system allowed the engineering company that modified the aircraft to have little or no CAA involvement.
• The CAA’s oversight and surveillance of commercial parachuting were not adequate to ensure that operators were functioning in a safe manner.
• The aeroplane owner and their pilots did not comply with CAA rules and did not follow good, sound aviation practice
• The CAA’s oversight and surveillance of commercial parachuting were not adequate to ensure that operators were functioning in a safe manner
• An alcohol and drug testing regime needs to be initiated for persons performing activities critical to flight safety; and that
• Safety harnesses or restraints would help to prevent passengers sliding rearward and altering the centre of gravity of the aircraft”.
The report calls for active participation and a co-ordinated approach by all sectors of the aviation industry to address the concerns.