Accident Resulted In The Fatal Injury Of All Nine On Board
The director of Glacier Skydive Air Services has disputed the official report from New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission that the Fletcher FU24 crop-duster which was being used in the skydiving operation was outside its weight and balance envelope when the accident occurred. His testimony came during a hearing into the fatal injury of four of those on board the airplane, all tourists. The others on board were skydiving instructors and the pilot, employed by the company.
John Kerr did say during the inquiry that the weight and balance calculations recommended by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had not been implemented, according to a report from the New Zealand Newswire. He also agreed that the plane was over its gross weight as recommended by the CAA manual.
According to the official report:
"The Walter Fletcher had been modified from an agricultural airplane into a parachute-drop airplane some 3 months before the accident. The modification to the aircraft had been poorly managed, and discrepancies in the airplane's documentation had not been detected by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had approved the change in category.
"The new owner and operator of the airplane had not completed any weight and balance calculations on the airplane before it entered service, nor at any time before the accident. As a result the airplane was being flown outside its loading limits every time it carried a full load of 8 parachutists. On the accident flight the centre of gravity of the airplane was well rear of its aft limit and it became airborne at too low a speed to be controllable. The pilot was unable to regain control and the airplane continued to pitch up, then rolled left before striking the ground nearly vertically."
The report indicates that the airplane, ZK-EUF, had been manufactured in New Zealand in 1980 by Pacific Aerospace Industries, later Pacific Aerospace Limited, as a Fletcher FU24-954 model airplane, serial number 281. The airplane was powered initially by a Lycoming IO-720-A1B piston engine and was certificated by the CAA in the restricted airworthiness category5 for agricultural topdressing operations.
Kerr said that the accident, which occurred shortly after takeoff, was more likely due to "jammed controls or controls failure." The company was reportedly aware of the weight and balance discrepancy, and was scheduled to check with the CAA after the airplane had flown 100 hours. The plane had accumulated about 90 hours at the time of the accident.
The New Zealand Herald reports that the official TAIC report indicates that the occupants may have all slid towards the tail of the aircraft during a steep climb after departure from the Fox Glacier airfield, resulting in an aft CG shift and making the airplane uncontrollable. The TAIC did not report any mechanical discrepancies with the airplane following its investigation of the 2010 accident.
(Image courtesy of the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission)