Could Kim Dotcom escape by chopper? Experts weigh in

[The surprise, tough new conditions imposed on Kim Dotcom's bail conditions today include a prohibition on flying by chopper. It seems a good time to revisit this story - CK]

The Crown has cited Kim Dotcom's access to helicopters as one reason to oppose bail.

A series of of leased helicopters - much hated by neigbours - have been the giant German's preferred method of transporting himself around New Zealand. 

But could anyone escape our shores by helicopter - or light plane?

I put the question to former Air Force pilot Vaughn Davis, who replied, "Not many helicopters in New Zealand could make the distance without refuelling, and those that could are likely to be owned by larger operators [presumably not likely to accept Mr Dotcom as a client]. However, plenty of fixed wing aircraft (my own included) could make it to Norfolk Island from Kaitaia if they felt brave enough."

An aviation source who did not want to be identified added:

Norfolk Island is 460nm (nautical miles) from Kaitaia, although with a helicopter, of course, you wouldn't be tied to the airport so could possibly shave a few miles by refuelling further north [1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles or 1.85km.]

Unrefuelled range of popular helicopter types are:

  • AS350 (aka Telecom Christmas Tree chopper) 357nm
  • Bell 206 (Jet Ranger) 374nm
  • BK117 (as used by Westpac Rescue) 336nm (figure for basic model; their mileage may vary)
  • Waikato Air Ambulance runs a Bell 222 and that will fly 378nm

These are the choppers you mostly see around town.

There are a few higher performance machines such as the Westland AW139 (used for oil rig support in Taranaki) - this has a stated range of 675nm but that would depend on exact configuration.

Basically, the machines capable of such a flight are typically owned by bigger operators which should make them less likely to be involved in such shenanigans.

There are, on the other hand, hundreds of light planes in NZ that would easily make the distance. But you'd need to really want to make that long trip over all that water ... 

Could the big fella get through Customs?
In terms of airline travel, prosecuters have also pointed to Mr Dotcom's alleged access to forged travel documents.

But even assuming this is correct, it's tricky to see Kim Dotcom (198cm or six foot six, and probably north of 150kg) sneaking past a Customs Officer.

By sea
NBR reader Jonathan Brewer was quick to suggest that all the helicopter maths is for naught.

The giant German only has to fly as far as a superyacht then cruise out of the country, Mr Brewer suggested.

ckeall@nbr.co.nz

ABOVE - EXTREME EXTRACTION: Kim Dotcom's bail conditions prohibit him access to a helicopter. But researching old John Wayne movies, Vaughn Davis found this scene that offers an alternative way to leave a country at speed. Although this is a dramatisation, the technique is real, said Mr Davis - a former Airforce pilot. (Fast forward to around 1 min 20 sec if you're impatient).

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