Helicopter pilot humbled by support after crash

LUCKY ESCAPE: Neal Andrews walked away from the wreckage uninjured.

A Marlborough pilot who crashed while helping to fight a 500-hectare forest fire in Marlborough says he is humbled by the outpouring of public support. 

Neal Andrews, base manager of Precision Helicopters, crashed as he was trying to refill a monsoon bucket in the Wairau River. 

Andrews was part a team of 11 helicopter pilots tackling the large pine forest fire west of Blenheim yesterday. 

A witness saw the helicopter hit the water with its tail pointed in the air.

He was able to walk from the wreckage uninjured and was quickly picked up from the scene by a colleague. 

Andrews today ruled out suggestions that strong wind yesterday was responsible for the accident, but wouldn’t talk about the cause. 

The Civil Aviation Authority has been notified and is understood to be investigating the cause.

The crashed helicopter was still in the Wairau River, near Onamalutu Rd about 300 metres from the edge of the fire.

Andrews, 48, said support from the public since the crash had been huge.

“I have been overrun with messages and am humbled by the support from the district and up and down the country.  

“We are just a small family business providing a service to the community.”

He had spent three hours this morning answering phone calls and clearing text messages from friends, members of the aviation community and passengers he had flown.

“On the day of the fire we were in the hangar at 4am have a briefing how to handle this fire. I never anticipated this would have happened.

“People have been saying I am lucky to be alive. Machinery can be replaced but lives can’t.”

Andrews was discharged from Wairau Hospital last night. He did not suffer any injuries but was sore from the impact of the crash.

“I wanted to spend today with the family and regroup,” the father-of-two said.

He plans to return to work tomorrow. 

Andrews has been a pilot for 15 years and runs Precision Helicopters from the Omaka Aerodrome in Blenheim.

One of his helicopters would continue to work as part of the air team fighting the fire.

– The Marlborough Express
HEATHER SIMPSON

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