A plane made a desperate attempt to avoid colliding with a helicopter in the seconds before a fatal smash which killed two teenage pilots.

At the first day of a three-day coroner’s inquest in Wellington the court was told that both pilots of a helicopter and a Cessna plane that collided in midair over Paraparaumu in 2008 were doing legal manoeuvres.

Trainee helicopter pilot James Taylor, 19 was taking his final test flight with examiner Dave Fielding, 30, when their helicopter and a Cessna flown by 17-year-old Bevan Hookway collided on February 17, 2008.

The helicopter fell through the roof of Paraparaumu’s Placemakers store, just missing staff and customers, while the plane’s fuselage landed about 250 metres away.

Taylor and Fielding died at the scene while Hookway later died in hospital.

Officer in charge Detective Sergeant Ian Martin said Taylor was completing a 180 degree autorotation, a simulation of engine failure over the Paraparaumu Placemakers store as part of his test.

Hookway, on his fifth solo flight, was returning to Kapiti airport doing a manoeuvre called an overhead rejoin in preparation to land.

Martin said it was not known why they did not see each other.

Witnesses told police the plane tried to evade the helicopter but it was too late. The helicopter dropped into the store while the plane spiralled away and ended up on its roof in Dennis Taylor Drive.

Martin said there were several issues police looked into, including Taylor’s blood alcohol level and a carbon monoxide reading in Hookway’s blood.

Further testing showed neither were a factor in the collision.

Reports of the flaps not working correctly on the Cessna were also not considered to have contributed to the crash.

He said both pilots appeared to have been doing acceptable manoeuvres which then put them on a collision course.

There was no criminality from the police point of view and the issue became one of aviation safety, Martin said.