Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Reviews into fatal DOC chopper crash released as company fined

DOC has released the findings of two independent reviews commissioned to examine the Department’s health and safety culture following the 2018 triple-fatality helicopter crash – the release coinciding with the handing down of a $315,000 fine to the Wānaka-based helicopter company involved in the accident.

DOC rangers, Paul Hondelink and Scott Theobald, along with pilot, Nick Wallis, were on their way to undertake tahr control work in the Haast area on the morning of 18 October when their helicopter crashed, killing all three men.

“When Paul, Scott and Nick were lost on that awful day, DOC’s senior leadership vowed to do everything necessary to ensure all staff and contractors come home safe after work,” said DOC Director General, Penny Nelson.

“DOC’s senior leadership wanted to ensure there was a thorough examination of the events leading up to the crash and the organisation subsequently implemented changes to help keep staff and contractors safe from harm.”

The Director General at the time of the incident commissioned an independent review from PwC, which made a number of recommendations aimed at significantly strengthening DOC’s health and safety systems including culture.

Wanaka helicopter pilot, Nick Wallis, who lost his life in the crash.

“Today we are releasing PwC’s own summary of that report, as the full report is subject to privacy, legal privilege and natural justice considerations. We are also releasing DOC’s organisational response report,” Ms Nelson said.

To “have confidence real changes to DOC’s health and safety had been made”, in June the Director General commissioned an independent review by CosmanParkes health and safety consultancy.

“I wanted assurance health and safety systems were robust following the implementation of the recommendations,” said Ms Nelson.

“The CosmanParkes report provides that assurance.”

With court proceedings against helicopter company Alpine Helicopters now concluded, the Director General is able to release the findings from the two reports DOC commissioned. 

“The PwC report found there were events leading up to the fatal accident that should have been managed better. Systems were in place but failed to deliver the necessary health and safety culture to address people’s concerns about the 2018 Tahr control programme,” said Ms Nelson.

“DOC’s organisational response to the PwC review shows important and enduring changes have been made to ensure risks identified in the lead up to operational fieldwork are addressed through improved safety systems work.”

She said there has been a strong focus on improving helicopter safety including implementing a new ‘Helicopter Boarding Pass’ critical risk checklist.

The Department has also introduced new helicopter standards which all operators need to meet to undertake any DOC or Fire and Emergency New Zealand work.

Department of Conservation Director General, Penny Nelson, who ordered the independent review in June.

DOC’s Tahr control programme is now managed as a national programme under a National Director with additional resources.

“DOC has strengthened its operating model to ensure accountability systems are embedded and staff are actively encouraged to escalate issues if they are concerned safety is being compromised,” Ms Nelson said.

“The latest independent review from health and safety consultancy CosmanParkes provides assurance the necessary changes have been implemented from the lessons learnt.”

DOC will continue to monitor helicopter safety, incident management and reporting, and our overall health and safety culture.

“Health and safety are top priorities, and we will keep a focus on continuous assessment and improvement of our systems and processes and will act whenever our people have any safety concerns,” the Director General said.

For the PwC and CosmanParkes summary reports, and DOC’s organisational response, visit DOC’s website:

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