7 Dec 2004

Australian pilots found guilty of illegally landing in PNG

7:43 am on 7 December 2004

Two Australian pilots who landed a plane without permission on a disused Bougainville airstrip have been found guilty in a Papua New Guinea court of operating an aircraft in a careless and dangerous manner.

The Australian Associated Press reports that Queensland pilots Andrew Reid and Peter McGee and Reid's company Tasman Airlines each faced two charges under PNG's Civil Aviation Act.

They were found guilty on all counts.

The pilots were questioned and charged after McGee landed the Cessna Citation jet near the former Panguna copper mine on September 30.

In delivering his decision in the Waigani District Court, magistrate Iva Cappo said McGee may have thought it was safe to land at the Aropa Airfield and people may not have been in danger on the ground.

But he said no authorisation for the flight to and land at the airfield had been given by PNG's aviation authorities.

The pilots did not take the stand during the case but their lawyer Greg Sheppard argued they had mistakenly believed they could land at the airfield.

The aircraft has been impounded by PNG authorities who want to speak to Australian Jeff Richards and Briton James Nessbit who were on the plane and are believed to have entered secessionist rebel leader Francis Ona's no-go zone.