Air Force commanders allowed a dangerous and deadly culture of rule-breaking to exist in an environment which had few warning systems, ultimately resulting in the unnecessary deaths of three young airmen, a court has found.
The NZ Defence Force pleaded guilty yesterday to breaching health and safety laws, leading to the fatal crash at Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, on Anzac Day, 2010, which included former Taradale man Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen.
Chief of Air Force Air Vice Marshal Mike Yardley appeared in court, representing the RNZAF as the accused.
The Wellington District Court was told that none of the pilots in the three-helicopter formation was qualified to be airborne that day, flying with night vision from Ohakea in the Manawatu to the Anzac Day service in Wellington.
The prosecution was taken by Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, the only person to survive the accident which killed Corporal Ben Carson, Flight lieutenant Hayden Madsen and Flight Lieutenant Dan Gregory.
He sought special permission from the court to take the prosecution outside the usual legal time limit after the then-Department of Labour misunderstood it was responsible for investigating the crash and did nothing.
It emerged Flight Lieutenant Madsen, 33, had only a half-second warning of danger that he was 50 feet from the ground, but would have had 19 seconds to react if he had followed Defence Force Orders and set the alarm at 200 feet.
Prosecutor Tim Mackenzie told the court the Air Force's failure to eliminate the "can do " culture at 3 Squadron "may have led to personnel believing it was appropriate to breach orders and flight plans to complete tasks".
The court was told the Air Force had no system which would allow those in charge of authorising flights to judge whether personnel were qualified for the duties they were being asked to perform.
It was also alleged the Air Force had failed to follow its own processes, which would have seen the flight path checked the day before to familiarise crews with the path they would travel.
Mr Mackenzie said there was no appropriate risk-management system for identifying risks when flying with night-vision gear.
In the wake of the verdict, the parents of Ben Carson, Andrew and Pauline, praised Mr Creeggan for taking the case.
"Without Stevin, it would have been swept under the carpet," Mr Carson said.
He said the four men on the flight deserved "respect" from their employer - the Air Force - and called for an overhaul of the military justice system, which has seen no one convicted for the failures that led to the deaths.NZ Herald