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Illegal landings net hefty fines

Illegally dropping off and collecting hunters from a designated wilderness area in the Kaimanawa Ranges has cost a helicopter company and pilot a combined $32,000.

This is by far the highest penalty the Department of Conservation has attained for this kind of prosecution.

The pilot, Darryl Williams, was fined $20,000 for the landings in the Rangitikei Remote Experience Zone, when he appeared in the Rotorua District Court in June.

On Friday, September 18, the company to which he contracted, Precision Helicopters Ltd, was fined $12,000 in the Taupo District Court for its part in the offences.

The Rangitikei Remote Experience Zone, which includes the upper Rangitikei River catchment, protects the wilderness character of the area in perpetuity and ensures that priority is given to maintaining its wilderness character.

Aircraft landings are not permitted in the REZ, except in case of emergencies.

DOC operations manager Dave Lumley says the convictions and fines show DOC takes protection of wilderness zones seriously.

"The REZ is retained in its natural state with no tracks, huts or other visitor facilities. Landing helicopters there is blatantly contrary to the values of the area."

Dave says all too often he hears accounts of pilots dropping hunters in the area.

"On this occasion we had good evidence and my staff did what it takes to secure a conviction.

"I hope that lets people know they can expect our support if they make a complaint and warns pilots of what the consequences can be."

The offences occurred on Saturday, February 23, 2019, when the pilot dropped three hunters in the REZ and flew back to the REZ to collect them a week later.

The return landing was witnessed by a member of the public who had hiked for two days through arduous terrain to access the REZ and made a complaint to DOC.

When subsequently spoken to by a DOC ranger, the company's chief executive officer admitted the offences.

In explanation, the defendant's director apologised on behalf of the company and acknowledged that the pilot "didn't do his homework" and says the company would advise all staff and contractors of the importance to only land on public conservation land when an approved concession is in place.

In fining the company $12,000, Judge Maree Mackenzie accepted the company was careless in not having effective systems to ensure its pilots didn't make landings on DOC land without first ensuring a concession had been granted.

The company had previously been given a formal warning about unapproved landings in 2014.

The judge ordered $1000 of the fine be paid to the member of the public who reported the offences.

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