Late pilot’s wife speaks out

Pictured: Steve and Stehanie Combe in the mountains above Lake Wanaka

The wife of the late Steve Combe, a helicopter pilot who died in a helicopter crash in 2015, has said that the focus should remain on the official cause of the accident after details of past mental health issues experienced by Steve came to light earlier this year.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) concluded in August 2016 that mast bumping was the cause of the incident, which occurred on a training flight, taking the lives of Steve and his student on February 19 2015.

Later that month, the Commission received new evidence concerning the mental health of Steve in 2014 and resumed the inquiry, again concluding that mast bumping was the most likely cause of the crash.

The report stated, “the commission concluded that it is very unlikely that any medical factor contributed to the accident. As a result, no changes were made to the original findings in the published report. It is very likely that the instructor was medically fit to fly when his most recent medical certificate was issued.”

Steve’s wife Stephanie Combe said that she hoped the focus on mast bumping would not be diminished.

“I believe some important issues have been missed in the coverage of the addendum to the accident investigation to date. TAIC has found that Steve was fit to fly at the time of the accident. Therefore medical issues were not a factor in this accident,” Stephanie said.

“This leaves us with the unanswered question about the cause of the accident. Mast bumping. We just will not know what really causes these fatal mast bumps in Robinson helicopters until we have a recording device in the cab as was recommended by TAIC in its original report of this incident. People don’t usually survive mast bumps in Robinsons to tell us what happened.”

Stephanie added that the TAIC’s report revealed an important truth that is of value to highlight.

“It is absolutely possible to have a ‘mental health episode’ and not only recover but also remain in remission and this is recognised at a high level by the medical profession in this report,” Stephanie said.

“Many people in Wanaka, and actually all around the world, knew Steve and were the recipients of his kindness and open-hearted nature. His unique expression of the joy of life was legendary. Who could forget him running the Challenge Marathon dressed as Wonder Woman to raise money for a dear friend who had cancer? In a pretty decent time too.”

“It may therefore have come as a surprise to some people to learn that someone like Steve could experience a short period where he felt depressed. This is because it is actually ‘quite normal to feel a bit weird’, as Prince Harry has said in his ‘Heads Together’ campaign to raise awareness about mental health.”

“At one point in time Steve felt low due to a specific set of, short-term, circumstances. He was brave enough to get help and due to the help and support he received, plus certain events, he recovered. I hope people will see that and hear the message that it is ok to talk about it, ok to get help. It is perfectly possible to recover.”

Stephanie said that Steve resigned from his role as a pilot when he realised something wasn’t right and only went back to flying when he was well again.

“If Steve had had a similar period off flying for sciatica or pneumonia for example, and then had returned when fully recovered, would anyone even be talking about it, especially as it wasn’t a relevant factor to the accident in this case? We all need to know that it’s normal to feel ‘a bit weird’ at some point in our lives. The important thing is to tell someone and get help,” Stephanie said.

“If Steve is to be in the news again, I pray people will take time to remember the genuinely ‘top bloke’ we all knew and the positive influence he had in this world in the all too short time he was here.”

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