#Fiji : Seven people survive chopper crash in Fiji

December 24, 2015 6:59 am

 
The helicopter came very close to landing in the water. Photo / Supplied  A Kiwi father on board a helicopter that crashed landed at a Fijian
resort island cradled his young daughter as the chopper lurched out of
control.
Miraculously, everyone survived, with the Toresen family of Auckland suffering relatively minor cuts and bruises.
They
left from Auckland for their Christmas holiday yesterday and after
arriving at Nadi International Airport, boarded a chopper bound for the
Treasure Island resort, 10 minutes away.
But just as the Island Hoppers Eurocopter was touching down, freak gusts of wind blew it out of control.
There were seven people on board, including the Kiwi pilot and an Australian couple in their 60s.

Nicky Toresen and Heidi were involved in a crash landing after a massive gust of wind threw sent the helicopter into a frenzy. Photo / Supplied
Nicky Toresen and Heidi were involved in a
crash landing after a massive gust of wind threw sent the helicopter
into a frenzy. Photo / Supplied
Aaron Toresen was with his wife Nicky and daughters Suzy, 6, and Heidi, 9.

He said as the wind hit, the pilot put the engines at full
throttle as it gained height. It then smashed into the ground and
lurched around, out of control, before coming to a stop.
“We’ve
got a few cuts and bruises and things but I think, considering how bad
it could have been, we’re all feeling alright,” Mr Toresen told NZME
from Treasure Island, where his family is seeing out the rest of their
holiday.
“The pilot commented as we were coming in there were
some pretty strong gusts of wind and some of the people here at the
resort said they’d noticed a couple of big gusts just as we landed.
“When
we touched down, a big gust knocked the chopper up. The pilot – I don’t
know whether he had a choice or not frankly – he went full throttle. He
absolutely gunned it.”
 

Seven people have survived a helicopter crash on Fiji’s Treasure Island this evening.
The Eurocopter they were in was trying to land when it crashed, the Fiji Broadcasting Commission reported.
It is believed the aircraft may have been caught by a strong gust of wind.
A
witness, Bob Carroll, wrote on Facebook: “A beautiful day trip to
Treasure Island changed dramatically as an inbound helicopter attempting
to land on the Treasure Island helipad only 50m from where we were
dining caught a wind gust that sent it into a tree and then crashing
into another tree right next to the pool … scary but thank God all got
out of the chopper and we are all OK.”
 

People investigate the wreckage of the crash. Photo / Supplied
People investigate the wreckage of the crash. Photo / Supplied
As he tried to lift the chopper again, it lurched forward.
“When we went forward, we went through some trees,” Mr Toresen said.
The palm trees were sliced by the helicopter blades and it appeared the chopper was out of control, thrashing from side to side.
“It was pretty dramatic stuff. When we went through a palm tree we chopped the top off completely.”
At this stage, Mr Toresen could see the resort’s pool and he said it was “miracle” the chopper didn’t come down there.
“My family was on the side that hit the ground. I think we would have been in big trouble if it landed [in the water].”

Once it hit the ground, the chopper was jammed between palm trees.
“When
we hit, the impact was pretty hard, as you can imagine. But then the
engines were still running and the blades were smashing into the ground.
“We could hear the helicopter trying to tear itself apart,” Mr Toresen said.
“It was just so violent.”
This was the scariest part, he said.
The family managed to get out after the engines were shut off and after a blade tore free and flew out into the sea.
Mr Toresen said everyone evacuated quickly and he was worried about the risk of fire.
On the flight, he was sitting next to his younger daughter.
During
the terrifying ordeal, which he said passed in slow motion; he wrapped
her in his body and tucked her head into his chest.
His shoulders were around her, to protect the young girl’s head.
When they hit the ground, Mr Toresen’s arm went through the window.

Aaron Toresen with daughter Heidi excited for their helicopter flight which turned into a nightmare. Photo / Supplied
Aaron Toresen with daughter Heidi excited for their helicopter flight which turned into a nightmare. Photo / Supplied
Daughter Heidi was the least hurt, he said. The Australian
woman required stitches to a cut and hurt her hip. She was taken by
helicopter to hospital in Nadi.
“It was horrific. The thing is,
as it was going through all those trees, it lurched up. You could see
there’s no way [the pilot] could control it. You’ve got no idea how it’s
all going to end.
“You’ve got two little kids and all you’re thinking about [is], is there anything you can to protect them,” he said.
“We
feel quite grateful. It’s the best Christmas present you can have. Your
kids walk out of something like that alive and besides cuts and
bruises, pretty well uninjured.
“We’re just enormously grateful, for us as passengers and also for the people around the poolside.”
Today,
the family has largely carried on with their holiday plans as normal,
including some snorkelling, as they try to take their children’s minds
off what happened.
At their daughters’ behest though, the Toresens won’t be taking a helicopter out of the resort.
They’ve
not been put off flying in general, although Suzy isn’t keen on
helicopters, saying it was appropriate they started with “hell”.
Mr
Toresen praised staff at the resort for helping them and for promptly
cleaning up the crash debris and re-filling the swimming pool. He was
also impressed the New Zealand High Commission had checked on his
family’s welfare.
The wreckage was still perched next to the pool and an investigator was on the scene.
Meanwhile, Mr Toresen said his family felt like “b-list celebrities” as the object of others’ attention and curiosity.
They planned on attending a Christmas celebration tonight and more snorkelling tomorrow.
“I
think it’s a bit of a Christmas miracle really. I look at our little
daughters and think it could have been so very bad. A thousand things
could have gone slightly differently and it could have been a very
different outcome.”
Treasure Island general manager Robert Wade
told the Herald the New Zealand staff raced to the beachfront crash site
and helped the passengers who had cuts and bruises.
“Our nurse tended to the passengers and the crew and made sure they were okay,” said Mr Wade.
No one was seriously injured and all the holidaymakers had chosen to stay in the islands for their break, he said.
As
a precaution the Australian couple first flew back to the mainland for a
medical check-up before resuming their holiday at a different resort.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it had offered the Kiwi family assistance.
Mr Wade said the incident was being investigated by Fiji’s Civil Aviation Authority.
Australian
Bob Carroll was eating with his family just 50 metres away when the
Eurocopter smashed into a tree before hitting another tree and crashing
next to a pool.
“Holy s***!! Bizarreo and freaky and scary but
thank God all got out of the chopper and we are all OK,” Mr Carroll said
on Facebook.
The wreckage will return to the Fiji mainland by barge.
Island
Hoppers’ sales and marketing manager Sheryn Ambler said she wasn’t able
to say much at the moment, because of the ongoing investigation, but
she was thankful there were no serious injuries.
“That’s what we care about, so that’s a good thing. They are all well.”
She was hopeful the cause of the crash would come out soon.
The pilot, who she confirmed was a New Zealander who lived in Fiji, was fine.
“He’s obviously feeling pretty bad but he’s OK. It’s not nice for anybody to be in any form of accident.”

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