Robinson R22 Went Down In Lake Wanaka Last November
The fatal crash of a helicopter
pilot as he flew over New Zealand's Lake Wanaka has been linked to
the possibility that he may have been texting with a cell phone,
providing a distraction that led to the crash.
The New Zealand Herald reports that Morgan Saxton, 31, was
flying his newly rebuilt Robinson R22 last November 1, following
his father in another helicopter across the lake toward Wanaka
Airport. When he failed to arrive at his destination, the senior
Saxton became concerned and a search was initiated.
Saxton's friend, Jonathon Wallis, confirmed that Saxton texted
him at about 6:20 pm, the same time Saxton would have been flying
over the lake. But since no one saw the helo go down, the exact
time of the crash is unknown.
Wallis' brother, Toby, said Saxton was an experienced pilot.
"It's so bizarre and tragic. There's no way he would have been
playing around." Toby said that the practice of texting while
flying is not uncommon, and was something he himself has done.
"We might get a text telling us about another flight and so we
might send a quick text back. It's no different to changing the
radio station in a car, but it could be dangerous if you are
distracted by it," he said.
Friend Kerry Eggeling helped in the search and rescue efforts
after the crash, and said he heard Saxton had been texting during
his flight. "He did send some texts to his friend when he was
flying. I don't know if it's a dangerous thing to do, but no one
knows how high Morgan was flying. If he was flying quite low I
suppose it's possible he might not have been watching and could
have been distracted."
Transport Accident Investigation Commission deputy chief
investigator Ken Mathews said, "We are looking at every aspect of
the flight," but was not yet able to ascertain if texting had been
a factor in the crash.
Helipro Scenic and Charter Flights operations manager Tim Barrow
said, "In certain phases of flight, texting would be a silly thing
to do. In critical phases of flight you wouldn't dream of it."
Steve Couchman, an Auckland-based rescue helicopter pilot said,
"Most of us carry mobiles, but I don't answer mine when I'm flying.
In my opinion nothing is important enough to be using your phone
during a flight."