Two Australians and four Britons were among seven people believed to have been killed when a helicopter crashed at a popular New Zealand tourist site, local police said.
The aircraft went down on Saturday morning at Fox Glacier in the South Island and bad weather continued to hinder recovery attempts overnight. Police said they believed none of the seven people on board, including the pilot, survived the crash.
Recovery teams were unable to reach the wreckage, which lay in a crevasse, due to difficult terrain and poor visibility. Police added that next of kin were being notified.
Remains of the helicopter that crashed on the Fox Glacier, a popular tourist site on the West Coast of the south Island Photograph: New Zealand Police/AFP/Getty
A spokesman for the New Zealand police said: “Police believe the passengers in the helicopter crash on Fox Glacier were six foreign tourists. It is believed two were Australians and four were from the United Kingdom. Formal identification of those people will take some time.
“Police have been liaising with the embassies of the countries concerned to ensure the next of kin are advised of the situation.”
The Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said: “We hold grave concerns for two Australians who were believed to have been on board and we have spoken with the families concerned. My sympathies are with the families of the crash victims at this very distressing time.”
Four rescue helicopters were sent to Fox Glacier on the remote west coast of the South Island, a New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre spokesman said.
New Zealand plane crash kills nine
A paramedic was to be winched down to the crash site to assess the situation and a cliff rescue team was also being sent to the area. Weather conditions around the glacier were described as terrible with heavy rain and poor visibility.
Police said they were planning for a recovery operation on Sunday morning.
“It wouldn’t be a good day to be flying helicopters,” Grey district mayor Tony Kokshoorn told the New Zealand Herald. “Everything is against a rescue [mission]. It will be cold up there. And the problem is amplified by the cloud cover.
Kokshoorn said the region had seen a bumper start to the Southern Hemisphere tourist season, but that bad weather had been putting pressure on some 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.”
Kokshoorn told AP that weather was marginal at the time of the crash, with intermittent rain showers and low cloud. “It was not ideal for helicopter flying,” he said.
He also said the glaciers have been retreating in recent years and that the only way to view them up close was 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 half an hour before returning.
The downed helicopter was reported to belong to a company called Alpine Adventures. The company, which is based near the glacier, confirmed its helicopter was involved in the incident, but a spokesman declined to comment further. Its website says it has been in business for about 30 years and runs “an impressive fleet of modern turbine helicopters”.
The eight-mile (13km) glacier is the longest on the west coast of the South Island, travelling from the edge of the Mount Cook national park in the Southern Alps towards the Tasman Sea coast.
The helicopter came down on the glacier, a popular spot with tourists, at about 11am on Saturday (0000 GMT).
In 2010, nine people were killed when a skydiving plane crashed at the end of the runway of Fox Glacier airport. Four were tourists and five were locals.