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New Zealand helicopter crash: Two British couples killed

Family handout of Katharine Walker and Andrew Virco Image copyright Other
Image caption Andrew Virco and Katharine Walker were in New Zealand to celebrate turning 50

Police in New Zealand have named four British tourists killed in a helicopter crash on the Fox Glacier.

They are Andrew Virco, 49, and Katharine Walker, 50, from Cambridge, and Nigel and Helen Charlton, aged 66 and 70, from Hampshire.

The aircraft crashed in a crevasse on the glacier, on New Zealand's South Island, on Saturday morning.

The crash site is on the island's remote west coast, which is a popular tourist area.

Also among the dead are Sovannmony Leang, 27, and Josephine Gibson, 29, both from New South Wales, Australia, and pilot Mitchell Gameren, 28, from Queenstown, New Zealand.

The bodies of three of the victims have been recovered from the crash site but the recovery operation has been called off until at least Wednesday because of bad weather, the BBC's Australia correspondent Jon Donnison said.

The bodies have been taken to a temporary mortuary facility nearby for formal identification, which New Zealand Police say might take several days.

Tributes

Image copyright Family
Image caption Nigel and Helen Charlton were adventurous travellers, their family said

Rebecca Walker, 22, said her mother, Katharine, had a "special spin on life".

"She worked hard and she played hard. She affected so many people in so many good ways," she told the BBC.

She added that the couple's "big adventure" to New Zealand was to celebrate turning 50.

Colleagues of Ms Walker, who was head of radiotherapy at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, are said to be "devastated" by her death.

Ms Walker was a "much respected member of staff" who had worked at Addenbrooke's for 23 years, Cambridge University Hospitals said.

The family of grandparents Mr and Mrs Charlton, who lived in the village of Dunbridge, near Romsey, said they were "deeply saddened".

"They were very adventurous when it came to travel and this holiday was to be their last big adventure together," their statement said.

'Extremely challenging'

Rescue teams in helicopters found no sign of survivors when they reached the crash site, rescue co-ordinators said. The cause of the crash is being investigated.

Operation commander inspector John Canning said they were "determined to return these people to their families" but said they faced a "complex and technical task".

"The site is near the top of the glacier, it's all ice, it's not level and there are blocks of ice as big as buildings with crevasses between them," he said.

"There will be danger in getting teams into the area and traversing the area."

A Tasman police spokesman described the operation as "extremely challenging and the safety of those working at the scene is of paramount importance".

He added: "Our thoughts are with the victims' families at this difficult time."

The helicopter involved is believed to be a Eurocopter "Squirrel" operated by local firm Alpine Adventures, which also trades as Fox Glacier Heliservices.

In a statement the firm said: "Fox Heliservices' thoughts are with the families of the passengers and pilot.

"The pilot was a very valued member of our team. The New Zealand Police and Civil Aviation Authority have taken over the investigation."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Fox Glacier, on the remote west coast of South Island, is visited by thousands of tourists each year

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are providing consular assistance to their families at this difficult time."

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