12 Apr 2013

Officer to defend amended charge over Anzac crash

10:43 pm on 12 April 2013

An Air Force officer charged over a fatal helicopter crash on Anzac Day has chosen to defend an amended charge.

Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro was leading a formation of three helicopters flying from the Ohakea air base to Wellington on 25 April 2010 when the crash occurred.

Flight-Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, Flying Officer Daniel Gregory and Corporal Ben Carson died when their helicopter crashed at Pukerua Bay en route for a flypast at a dawn ceremony in the capital. Sergeant Stevin Creeggan was seriously injured.

Flight Lieutenant Pezaro had been charged with negligence for not aborting the mission when weather deteriorated. He is not alleged to have directly caused the accident.

However on Friday evening, the Disciplinary Officer amended the charge to one of failing to abort the transit flight to Wellington when the weather fell below minimum permitted flying conditions.

Wing Commander Shaun Sexton has found there is a case for Flight Lieutenant Pezaro to answer.

Flight Lieutenant Pezaro has chosen to be tried summarily by him, rather than face a court martial and defence evidence will begin at the Ohakea air base on Monday.

Flying rules interpreted liberally, inquiry told

A retired squadron leader who authorised the Anzac Day 2010 mission, told the hearing on Friday that he was a lone voice raising concerns on how 3 Squadron interpreted rules.

Rob Stockley presented a series of emails between himself and executives of 3 Squadron, raising his concern that they were interpreting the regulations in a more liberal fashion than permitted.

Mr Stockley said a couple of people strongly disagreed with him, and said things had always been done that way and he was wrong.

The former squadron leader said he was told at a seminar at Ohakea that orders were for the advice of wise men and the blind adherence of fools.

Mr Stockley told the hearing on Thursday that he did not consider Flight Lieutenant Pezaro's actions were negligent.

Culture of infringing rules, says co-pilot

Flight Lieutenant's Pezaro's co-pilot told the military tribunal on Friday that some executives on 3 Squadron supported a culture of infringing rules relating to weather and flying heights.

Flight Lieutenant Stuart Anderson said he was a licensed civilian pilot before he transferred to the Air Force and questioned some procedures, but the executive of 3 Squadron supported pilots using their discretion when it came to some of the rules and their subordinates followed their example.

He told the hearing he was comfortable with conditions on Anzac Day 2010, right up until the decision was made to abort the mission.

Flight Lieutenant Stuart Anderson said that, generally, the orders for 3 Squadron were a shambles, with several different ones in operation at once.

On the day of the crash, the helicopters were flying below the minimum allowable altitude, but he said he would have been comfortable flying even lower than that.

Flight Lieutenant Anderson said he had no doubt that any other flight crews faced with the situation that occured on that day would have done exactly the same as his crew did.

Flight Lieutenant Mike Garrett also gave evidence on Friday, and told the hearing 3 Squadron's culture meant it was accepted that there was a degree of latitude in following orders on minimum weather conditions and the like.

He said he had learnt that from squadron executives when he was a new pilot, and none of Flight Lieutenant Pezaro's actions on the day of the crash were inconsistent with that custom.