David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Crash blame 'at all levels'

Investigation: Helicopter pilot says mission conducted under confused orders

One of three air force Iroquois flying together crashed into a hillside after the flight crews tried to change course in bad weather. Photo / Mark Mitchell
One of three air force Iroquois flying together crashed into a hillside after the flight crews tried to change course in bad weather. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The pilot who led the three military helicopters into bad weather and a fatal accident later told a widow of one of the victims there was blame right up the chain of command to the Chief of Air Force.

Flight Lieutenant Dan Pezaro said he was flying under confused standing orders while his unit had training levels later found to be below standard at the time of the fatal 2010 Anzac Day crash.

He was the pilot of Black 1 - the first of three helicopters tasked with flying over Anzac Day parades in Wellington in 2010. In bad weather, the second helicopter in the flight of three hit a hillside at Pukerua Bay, killing three of its crew.

The Ministry of Justice yesterday confirmed the coroner's office had an active investigation under way into the crash. It adds to a ministerial inquiry into the air force's handling of the safety recommendations which followed the crash.

The Herald this week has revealed concerns about safety in the air force and at the Iroquois' 3 Squadron before the accident.

An inquiry into the accident found the air force's safety systems and command lines in tatters.

The crash devastated the tight-knit group at Ohakea-based 3 Squadron, including Flight Lieutenant Pezaro who married air force psychologist Carolyn Freeman on the base a fortnight after the crash. Two months later he wrote to Kim Madsen, the widow of flight lieutenant Hayden Madsen who was flying Black 2, the second helicopter in the chain.

In the email, Flight Lieutenant Pezaro said: "I've been haunted by the delima (sic) of why we didn't turn around earlier since the day and think I always will be, but that's ok because it means I will never forget."

He said the flight of three helicopters were about 3km north of Pukerua Bay, where the crash happened, when it was becoming clear the weather would be too bad to go further.

Flight Lieutenant Pezaro said he believe it was a good idea to turn at Pukerua Bay. In hindsight, he said, it was not.

He said the accident had changed the way weather was treated at 3 Squadron and there was now strict observance of rules.

"There's now a hard limit so no matter what ... you don't go below minimas. This wasn't clear before Anzac Day."

He said the crash investigation had already found failures around training on flying on instruments in bad weather. "We weren't doing enough or the right sort of training for that emergency. This has definitely changed."

Flight Lieutenant Pezaro said he wanted Mrs Madsen to brace herself for the possibility her husband might be among many who would be criticised in the investigation.

"I'll be responsible in some part for leading the formation into the bad weather, the [commanding officer] and execs will be responsible for the crews' training and preparedness for the flight, even the [Chief of Air Force] will have his part to play in engendering the 'can do' attitude on [squadron] which caused us to push limits."

The then-Chief of Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Graham Lintott, is now New Zealand's defence attache in Washington.

Former squadron leader Rob Stockley came forward this week to reveal ignored warnings before the accident.

•Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman's office conceded the number of recommendations in the Court of Inquiry report was 78, not 27 as the minister had previously said.

- NZ Herald

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