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, who is known as Helen, died along with two Australians and the local pilot when the aircraft came down on the Fox Glacier on Saturday morning.

The family of grandparents-of-three Mr and Mrs Charlton said today they had been left "deeply saddened" by the death of a couple "loved by family and friends near and far".

In a statement issued through the Foreign Office, they said: "They were very adventurous when it came to travel and this holiday was to be their last big adventure together. None of us were expecting their adventure to continue in the way that it will.

"We are grateful that they remain travelling together but heartbroken that their new itinerary started the way that it did.

"In light of all the recent atrocities that we hear of from across the world we are grateful that our grief is something that can be managed with reasoning and understanding. Our hearts go out to all those having to deal with different types of grief to ours."

The Charltons are believed to have had two sons, Jason and Daniel.

The statement added the family's thanks to the "brave" rescue teams and to the loved ones of the other crash victims. 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.

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 who had built a signal box in their garden, which backed on to a railway line. He was also a member of Romsey Male Voice choir who previously worked in Totton, a town near Southampton.

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.

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.

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.