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British and Australian tourists among New Zealand chopper crash victims

Published 22/11/2015

Fox Glacier on New Zealand's South Island, where the helicopter crashed
Fox Glacier on New Zealand's South Island, where the helicopter crashed

Two British couples and two Australians are among seven people who died when a helicopter crashed on a scenic New Zealand glacier.

Rescuers are working to recover the bodies from Fox Glacier, where the wreckage remained wedged in a crevasse. Police said the rugged terrain was making the operation "extremely challenging".

Police named the victims as Britons Nigel Charlton, 66, and Cynthia Charlton, 70, of Hampshire, and Katharine Walker, 51, and Andrew Virco, 50, of Cambridge.

Australians Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, of New South Wales, Australia, also died. The New Zealand pilot was Mitchell Gameren, 28, of Queenstown.

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

Fox Glacier is a popular tourist destination on New Zealand's South Island.

Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the weather was "not ideal for helicopter flying", with intermittent rain showers and low clouds.

He said the region had been experiencing a bumper start to the Southern Hemisphere tourist season, but bad weather had been putting pressure on some tour operators.

"It can be a fine line," he said. "Operators are doing their best to get people up there, but obviously something went badly wrong."

He said that the glaciers in recent years had been retreating and that the only way to view them up close is by helicopter. He said operators offer different packages, and a basic trip typically involves a 10-minute flight to the top of the glacier, where tourists can walk around for about a half-hour before returning.

Peter Northcote, a spokesman for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, said a team of investigators was planning to survey the scene over the coming days.

Nine people died in 2010 when a skydiving plane crashed near the same glacier.

New Zealand relies on tourism as a major source of revenue, but has been criticised by some people as having safety standards that are too lax. The parents of four tourists who died in the 2010 crash near Fox Glacier later wrote to New Zealand prime minister John Key to urge him to improve safety measures in the industry.

Mr Kokshoorn said he hoped authorities completed a thorough investigation into the latest crash to ensure that the industry is safe and that tourists could have confidence that operators would make the right call in bad conditions.

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