Helicopter Crashes into Pāuatahanui Inlet




On Tuesday 2 May, 2017 drama was unfolding over Pāuatahanui Inlet as helicopter pilot, Rick Lucas, was flying on a scheduled task, delivering power poles to a location in the hills east of the harbour.

IMG 6348


Floating, and under tow.

While flying over the Inlet on one of his trips Rick felt the aircraft develop a strong vibration and it then began to rotate out of control. Rick’s 35 years of training and experience kicked in and he responded to the emergency by executing normal emergency landing procedures, throttling down to slow the spin and reducing the speed of impact. …But he couldn’t stop the chopper from a descent that quickly brought it down – right into the waters of Pāuatahanui Inlet. 

The point of impact, in the middle of the Inlet, was on a sand bar about 500m east of Moorehouse Point where the water was only about ½ m deep.  The machine hit hard, breaking the rotors, windows and doors, leaving Rick partially submerged in the waters and tied in with his seatbelt. In all his years as a pilot Rick had never experienced anything as frightening as this before. He survived the impact but, with the machine partially submerged, it took several seconds to get his orientation and work out how to free himself from the seatbelt. Fortunately he was able to climb up through the cockpit and, only sensing a little discomfort in his jaw, clamber out of the machine’s body to stand on top clear of the water.

Meanwhile the accident had not gone un-noticed. It had sparked a barrage of 144 emergency ‘111’ phone calls from eye-witnesses. An off-duty firefighter and a local resident who was mowing a lawn, both heard the crash and saw the chopper in the Inlet. Both grabbed a kayak and paddled out at high speed, fearing the worse. In the end Rick only suffered a cut to his mouth but was very grateful for the quick response from the locals. Also on the move were the emergency services responding to the ‘111’ calls and a rescue boat was launched to pick up the pilot from the downed aircraft. 

Rick considered himself very lucky to have escaped almost unscathed by the incident, after having thought at the time that the loss of control was going to spell disaster for him. He was even more surprised when he saw the damage to his machine after it was retrieved from the Inlet two days later.

Helicopter recovery

A crane lifts the helicopter from the water


Retrieval was a matter of raising the helicopter by the use of inflatable bags tied to the sides and then towing it from the crash site to the beach at Paremata Bridge. However, because the water was so shallow, the first attempt to affix the flotation bags could not be achieved before failing light called a halt to the mission. It was not until high tide, late in the afternoon, on Thursday that the aircraft was finally lifted off the sea bed so it could be towed to a waiting winch crew on shore at the south end of Mana Esplanade.  A crowd of some 200 people came to watch as a crane was used to lift the damaged chopper off the sand and onto a truck. It was taken away for further examination.


Helicopter Recovery

On land at last - ready for the truck


Stephen O’Neil and his son were in the crowd that watched the recovery. He comments about his experience:

‘From my house I could see the wreck of the helicopter lying in the Inlet, so I noticed when it was on the move. As my 1 1/2 year old son has a keen interest in all sorts of machinery, I decided to further his education by giving him a closer look at the salvage operation.  When I got to Paremata Bridge I found that several other parents were thinking the same way and a gaggle of pre-schoolers followed the operation with unsuppressed excitement. The combination of a beautifully sunny autumn day, the children and the mounting crowd, gave the event a festive family atmosphere - an unexpected treat on an otherwise quiet day.’


It was Stephen who took the photographs above. He also recorded three minutes of video to show the recovery in action.   Helicopter-Recovery.avi

Last Updated: 11/07/2017 10:05am