Dropping 1080 on trampers – the 2013 Marlborough incident you possibly didn’t hear about

From Carol Sawyer 


This bungled 1080 drop on Mt Stanley/ Tennyson Inlet, Marlborough Sounds on 2 November 2013, may be three and a half years ago, but how many people know about it?

I have been sent two reports in the post, that give a bit more background.

1 ) “Investigation into uncommanded bucket release” by John Sinclair, NZ AAA and NZ Helicopter Assn, Occurrence Investigator

2 ) “Notes on Aerial 1080 drop 2/11/2013, Mt Stanley, Tennyson Inlet” by Phil Clerke, senior biodiversity ranger, Dept of Conservation, Picton

These two reports make for fascinating reading.

This drop was conducted by Marlborough Helicopters Ltd for the Dept of Conservation. Two pilots were involved, flying two Bell Jetrangers, ZK-HJI and ZK-HZE. The senior of the two pilots was a director of the helicopter company.  The other pilot was completing only his second poison drop, “but he had considerable experience in other aerial agricultural operations and is a competent pilot with sufficient experience to undertake poison drops” Occurrence Investigator, John Sinclair said.

I shall call them Pilot One and Pilot Two.

According to the report by DoC’s Phil Clerke, Pilot One left the barge to commence his baiting, but arrived back “somewhat shaken” and minus his bucket. He had ” visibly received an impact above the eye ( I was later to learn it was from the breaking airline leading to the bucket ). I was unsure of the exact details but picked up that the bucket’s airline then struck the rotors as well. I later learned that (Pilot One) also lost partial sight in this eye.”

This report differs slightly from the Occurrence Investigator, John Sinclair’s, report which says

” …….(Pilot One) was carrying out a trickle feed of sensitive boundaries when the bucket and its load of 1080 suffered an uncommanded release from the helicopter. In the departure sequence a pneumatic control line severed and flicked up cutting the pilot’s eye”. Also the “pneumatic control line had connected with the OAT and cracked the windscreen”.

Despite this injury, Pilot One flew himself to Blenheim and came back in an R22 with a long lifting chain, after which Pilot Two went off (with the chain presumably) to recover the dropped bucket! Once this was done, Pilot One returned to Blenheim in the R22.

John Sinclair’s report has a great deal of detail about the bucket release, but he says

“I believe that the most likely cause of the uncommanded release of the cargo hook was the helicopter’s manual cargo hook release being activated, then not properly returned to the safe position before it was next used” (Human error, in other words).

Because of all this dropped bucket palaver, this meant that the less experienced pilot, Pilot Two, had to complete the sensitive boundaries – instead of now-injured & more experienced Pilot One, the one who was supposed to be doing it. John Sinclair’s report reads :

“In the course of doing this Pilot Two misjudged conditions and allowed the wind to carry a small amount of bait onto the Nydia Bay Track. Pilot Two was under considerable pressure because of the need to do another drop the next day in Golden Bay. While DoC had offered to postpone the operation there would be the logistics of barging all the bait back to Picton if the operation was curtailed. These pressures may have impacted on his subconscious, especially given that the weather windows this spring have been very few and far between.”

The bait falling “onto the Nydia Bay Track” unfortunately appears to have fallen on the trampers mentioned in the article below.
In the Occurrence Investigator John Sinclair’s report, he just refers to it thus:

“The dropping of the bucket did however impact on an adverse environmental effect later in the day”. ( The adverse environmental effect being presumably, dropping 1080 pellets on trampers.)
In the DoC report, Phil Clerke says a DoC worker, Wendy, “radioed in to pass on that she had met trampers that claimed they were rained on, on the track at the saddle”.

The trampers, incidentally, knew of the 1080 drop but had been told the track itself was SAFE as it had an exclusion zone of 20 metres.

Some questions I have are these :

1 ) Why did Pilot One fly a helicopter back to Blenheim and collect another one, when it had a cracked windscreen and he had a cut on his eye ! Not only that but he returned with another helicopter !

2 ) Why was a pilot who had only done one 1080 drop before, allowed to fly the sensitive boundaries, when as well as this the wind had got up – Phil Clerke says “the wind was noted to increase in velocity, Pilot Two and I had a discussion about this. It was still considered workable.” So pellets land on trampers!

3 ) This question should be asked of DoC : Why on earth was 1080 poison loaded onto helicopters off a barge in pristine Tennyson Inlet? The DoC report says, “A vacuum cleaner, dust brushes/ pans were to be used with the initial barge clean up to reduce wash down contamination. Wash down would only be used when no further bait fragments could be recovered.” (Meaning 1080 dust would be washed into Tennyson Inlet, presumably!)

Carol Sawyer

Here is the stuff.co.nz report on this incident:

Trampers Want an Apology after Pellets Rained Down

Two trampers want an apology from Conservation Minister Nick Smith after the area around them was showered with 1080 pellets as they walked the Nydia Track in the Marlborough Sounds.

Simon and Carol Caley had set out from Duncan Bay on Saturday when they saw a 1080 warning sign and met a DOC employee who assured them helicopters would not drop pellets within 20 metres of the track.

Near the high point of the walk at Nydia Saddle, Mrs Caley heard pellets dropping through the trees and one just missed her foot. She said she felt dust on her face and neck, had an appalling taste in her mouth and breathed in a strong smell of cinnamon.



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