There is now confirmation that the crash of the firefighting helicopter in New Zealand that Wildfire Today covered yesterday resulted in two fatalities. Initially it was known that the helicopter crashed Wednesday night into the ocean off shore from a vegetation fire, but the official status of the pilot and passenger was “missing” until divers could access the wreckage in seven to ten meters of water a few hundred meters off shore.
Below is an update, courtesy of FirefighterCloseCalls.com:
We regret to advise you that 2 Firefighers died this morning when a helicopter operating at a wildland fire that destroyed homes in New Zealand’s North Island. The helicopter went missing late last night off the Karikari Peninsula, at the northern end of the North Island, and the wreckage was found early today. Rescue divers reached the wreckage and confirmed the two-man crew, a commercial helicopter pilot and a conservation department ranger, died in the crash. The helicopter was carrying out a reconnaissance flight over the fire when it crashed. The 2 Firefighters faced very heavy fire and smoke conditions. Pilot John de Ridder, along with Department of Conservation Ranger William Macrae, were sent to help evacuate trapped residents on the Karikari Peninsula. The Squirrel helicopter went down not far from the fire while making a reconnaissance flight over the fire which burned two homes in Matai Bay.
De Ridder, a seasoned pilot in these conditions, was a director for Salt Air, a charter company. Chief executive Grant Harnish said that de Ridder was one of the Far North’s most experienced and respected helicopter pilots. They were fighting the fire when he was requested by command to divert to pick civilians up from the beach and get them away from approaching fire and out of harm’s way. The pilot removed the monsoon bucket and then began the new task.
William Macrae, 54, was in the passenger seat when the helicopter crashed and was a long serving and highly respected ranger who has worked the job for 16 years. Macrae’s brother, also a DOC ranger, was busy operating at the fire when his brother crashed. His wife is the receptionist at the Kaitaia office. The fire, believed to have been deliberately set, started late Wednesday, forcing some residents in the remote area to wade into the ocean to escape the fire. Our sincere condolences to all affected.