WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Four tourists from Britain and two from Australia were among seven people killed Saturday when a helicopter crashed on a scenic New Zealand glacier, police said.
An image released by police showed the wreckage wedged between walls of ice in a crevasse on the Fox Glacier. Police said in a statement that the difficult terrain had prevented rescuers from reaching the wreck, but that they believed all six tourists along with the pilot had been killed.
Police said they would try to recover the bodies Sunday. They said that they had been talking with embassy officials to notify relatives, but that formal identification of the bodies could take some time.
The helicopter crashed at about 11 a.m. at the popular tourist destination on New Zealand’s South Island.
Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said the weather was marginal at the time of the crash, with intermittent rain showers and low clouds.
“It was not ideal for helicopter flying,” he said.
Kokshoorn said that the region had been experiencing a bumper start to the Southern Hemisphere tourist season, but that bad weather had been putting pressure on some tourist operators.
“It can be a fine line,” he said. “Operators are doing their best to get people up there, but obviously something went badly wrong.”
He said that the glaciers in recent years have been retreating and that the only way to view them up close is by helicopter. He said operators offer different packages, and a basic trip typically involves a 10-minute flight to the top of the glacier, where tourists can walk around for about a half-hour before returning.
A rescue helicopter reached the scene Saturday afternoon and used a winch to lower a paramedic and an alpine rescue team to the vicinity of the crash, said Vince Cholewa, a spokesman for Maritime New Zealand. But crevasses and rugged terrain hampered their efforts, he said.
He said there were low clouds in the area, but otherwise the rescuers had not been held back by the weather.
Peter Northcote, a spokesman for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, said the helicopter was ferrying tourists at the time of the crash. He said a team of investigators was planning to survey the scene over the coming days.
Nine people died in 2010 when a skydiving plane crashed near the same glacier.
New Zealand relies on tourism as a major source of revenue, but has been criticized by some people as having safety standards that are too lax. The parents of four tourists who died in the 2010 crash near Fox Glacier later wrote to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to urge him to improve safety measures in the industry.
Kokshoorn, the mayor, said he hopes authorities complete a thorough investigation into the latest crash to ensure that the industry is safe and that tourists can have confidence that operators will make the right call in bad conditions.
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