Pilot: We followed protocol


A pilot leading a formation of Air Force helicopters during the Anzac Day tragedy three years ago was following his training in flying below low hanging cloud, a tribunal has been told.

Evidence was given at a military tribunal at the Royal New Zealand Air Force base at Ohakea yesterday into the actions of Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro on April 25, 2010.

On that morning the second helicopter in the formation crashed into a hillside south of Pukerua Bay on the Kapiti Coast, killing three crew members and seriously injuring a forth.

Flight Lieutenant Pezaro, 30, has denied a charge that he was negligent in continuing with the mission despite poor weather conditions.

Former Taradale pilot Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, co-pilot Flying Officer Daniel Gregory, 28, and crewman Corporal Ben Carson, 25, lost their lives in the crash near Pukerua Bay. Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, 37, survived but suffered serious injuries.

The four were in "Black 2" - the second of three Iroquois helicopters flying in formation using night vision goggles from Ohakea to Wellington for an Anzac Day flypast.

The tribunal heard a taped phone conversation between a sergeant who worked in the Ohakea fire service and Flight Lieutenant Pezaro, who called after the crash.

He told the sergeant cloud had descended to 250 to 300 feet and they had to fly below that level, which was below the minimum height for choppers.

Retired Squadron Leader Rob Stockley, who authorised the mission, said yesterday it was accepted practice that poor weather could force aircraft to fly low.

Prosecuting officer Anthony Budd showed Mr Stockley a weather forecast for 4am of the day of the flight and Mr Stockley said the forecast indicated there would have been a "low chance" of the mission going ahead.

But under cross-examination by defence lawyer Squadron Leader Ron Thacker, he said forecasts changed "all the time".

"I was absolutely comfortable that 'Pez' had the experience to lead the formation."

In the interview, Flight Lieutenant Pezaro said he knew the weather was not ideal, but he had prepared different flight paths to try to ensure they would get to Wellington for the flyover.

The hearing continues.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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