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Weather blights bid to recover New Zealand helicopter crash bodies

Published 23/11/2015

Nigel and Helen Charlton, who died in a helicopter crash in New Zealand.
Nigel and Helen Charlton, who died in a helicopter crash in New Zealand.

Bad weather is continuing to hamper efforts to recover the bodies of the victims of a helicopter crash in New Zealand as tributes were paid to the four British tourists killed.

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 in Saturday's tragedy on the Fox Glacier.

Mr and Mrs Charlton were on "their last big adventure together", their family said, while Ms Walker and Mr Virco were reported to be on a trip to jointly celebrate their 50th birthdays.

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

"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," they said in a statement.

"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.

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

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."

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.

The bodies of four of the victims have now been recovered from the crash site and taken to Christchurch where post-mortem examinations are expected to take place on Tuesday.

But it may be Wednesday before the others are recovered because the weather is expected to worsen during today and Tuesday.

Plans have now been made for the safe staging of crews on the glacier when the operation is able to resume.

Police said on Monday morning local time, Sunday night GMT, that they were unable to get on to the glacier until the weather clears, with Alpine Cliff Rescue team leader Marius Bron saying working on the ice was "like working on popcorn".

Reports in New Zealand said Mr Gameren was believed to be an experienced flier, who was piloting the helicopter for Fox Glacier Heliservices, which also trades as Alpine Adventures.

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."

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.

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.

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