A man and a woman from New South Wales have been confirmed dead in a New Zealand helicopter crash as atrocious weather conditions force rescue crews to suspend the operation to recover bodies.
Pilot Mitch Gameren, 28, and six tourists – including a man and a woman from New South Wales – were killed when the aircraft crashed into rugged and heavily crevassed terrain at Fox Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island on Saturday morning.
The two New South Wales victims were identified as 27-year-old Sovannmony Leang and 29-year-old Josephine Gibson.
The four Britons killed in the crash have been identified as Andrew Virco, 50, Katharine Walker, 51, Nigel Edwin Charlton, 66, and Cynthia Charlton.
The pilot had only recently returned to New Zealand after flying Medevac missions in Malaysia.
Earlier New Zealand Police released a statement saying the two Australian victims were women from South Australia, but later issued a clarifying statement.
Three victims have now been recovered from the crash site and taken to a temporary mortuary near the crash site for formal identification, which could take a number of days.
Heavy rain overnight and Sunday morning had kept crews grounded, but a break in the weather on Sunday morning allowed members of the Alpine Cliff Rescue Team to take off with specialist equipment which allowed them to work in the deep ice crevasses at the top of the glacier.
Air accident investigators planned fly to the glacier on Sunday, however, conditions have since deteriorated and the recovery operation has ended for the day.
Inspector John Canning said recovery of the bodies would take priority over the accident investigation.
The sightseeing helicopter plunged into the Fox Glacier, a popular tourist site on the west coast of the South Island, with weather conditions reported to be heavily overcast and raining at the time.
The wreckage was found in a crevasse but rescuers had difficulty reaching it due to the rugged terrain.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had spoken with New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key about the accident on the sidelines of the ASEAN Conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we’re very sorry to hear of that accident,” he said.
The Squirrel helicopter was operated by Alpine Adventures, which said it took off on a scenic flight on Saturday morning.
The alarm was raised late on Saturday morning when an emergency locator beacon was activated.
The New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre sent four helicopters to the glacier where they found a deep scorch mark leading to the helicopter about 762 metres up the glacier.
In 2010, a plane headed for Fox Glacier crashed while taking off from a nearby town, killing all nine people on board, including four international tourists.
Alpine Adventures has been taking tourists to the site since the 1980s.