Tributes paid to British victims of New Zealand helicopter crash


Tributes have been paid to the British victims of a helicopter crash in New Zealand which killed seven people.

Katharine Walker, 51, her partner Andrew Virco, 50, and Nigel Charlton, 66, and his wife Cynthia, 70, died along with two Australians and the local pilot when the aircraft came down on the Fox Glacier on Saturday morning.

Neighbours of retired dentist Mr Charlton and his wife in the village of Dunbridge, near Romsey in Hampshire, today spoke of their sadness at what had happened.

Cathie Wood, 71, who knew the couple for 40 years, said: "He (Mr Charlton) was very generous, very loving. She was a great needlewoman, she loved dressmaking, she loved knitting, she loved the garden and she loved the cottage. They loved singing and they loved travel.

"I don't know why the helicopter had to take off in such bad weather. It's just terrible what has happened, it's just unbelievable."

She said that Mr Charlton was a "big fan" of trains and had built a full-size signal box in their garden, which backed on to a railway line. He was also a member of Romsey Male Voice choir. He had previously worked in Totton, a town between Southampton and New Forest.

Mrs Charlton has two grown sons from a previous relationship, she added.

Ms Walker was head of radiotherapy at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

A spokesman for Cambridge University Hospitals, which runs it, said: "Everyone at the hospital is devastated by the news and our thoughts go out to Kath's family at this very sad time.

"Kath was a much respected member of staff who had worked at Addenbrooke's for 23 years and she led the trust's radiotherapy services with great professionalism, skill and pride.

"We know many of our staff are going to be hit hard by this tragic news and we will be offering additional support for them."

The bodies of three of the victims have now been recovered from the crash site and taken to a temporary mortuary facility nearby for formal identification, which New Zealand Police said may take a number of days.

As well as the British victims, Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, both from New South Wales, Australia, died along with helicopter pilot Mitchell Gameren, 28, from Queenstown, New Zealand.

But the recovery operation has been halted after weather at Fox Glacier deteriorated and it may be Wednesday before the others are recovered because it is expected to worsen during Monday and Tuesday. The helicopter which recovered the bodies was unable to land and had to winch them from the scene.

Operation commander Inspector John Canning said: "The site is near the top of the glacier, it's all ice, it's not level and there are blocks of ice as big as buildings with crevasses between them.

"There will be danger in getting teams into the area and traversing the area. While we're determined to return these people to their families, this will be a complex and technical task with an emphasis on the safety of those involved."

The Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to the British victims' families "at this difficult time".

The helicopter crashed at around 11am local time yesterday (midnight GMT), with a picture released by police showing the crumpled remains stuck at the bottom of a wall of ice close to the top of the eight-mile (13km) glacier.

Reports in New Zealand said Mr Gameren was believed to be an experienced flier.

Fox Glacier Heliservices, which also trades as Alpine Adventures, organised the flight.

In a statement the firm said: "Fox Heliservices' thoughts are with the families of the passengers and pilot.

"The pilot was a very valued member of our team.

"The New Zealand Police and Civil Aviation Authority have taken over the investigation."

Alpine Adventures' website says it has been in business for around 30 years and runs "an impressive fleet of modern turbine helicopters".

Fox Glacier is the longest on the west coast of the South Island, travelling from the edge of the Mount Cook National Park in the Southern Alps towards the west coast on the Tasman Sea.

Grey district's mayor Tony Kokshoorn said weather was marginal at the time of the crash, with intermittent rain showers and low cloud. "It was not ideal for helicopter flying," he said.

In September 2010 British web designer Bradley Coker, 24, from Farnborough, Hampshire died in a plane crash near the Fox Glacier, along with eight other people trying skydiving.