David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Parents of Air Force sergeant Ben Carson disappointed by coroner findings

Andrew and Pauline Carson, who are the parents of Ben Carson, a Royal New Zealand Air Force crew member who was killed in a helicopter crash on Anzac Day 2010. Photo / Peter Meecham
Andrew and Pauline Carson, who are the parents of Ben Carson, a Royal New Zealand Air Force crew member who was killed in a helicopter crash on Anzac Day 2010. Photo / Peter Meecham

Parents of an Air Force sergeant killed in a fatal Anzac Day helicopter crash say they have been let down by the coroner whose investigation and decision came more than six years after their son and two others died.

Andrew and Pauline Carson identified areas they wanted coroner Debra Bell to investigate in relation to their son Ben's death but were disappointed she found all the inquiries held so far were sufficient.

Instead of a public hearing, the coroner's hearing into the three Royal New Zealand Air Force deaths from 2010 was done "on the papers", with Bell reviewing documentation relating to the accident.

The Carson's son Ben, 25, was killed along with pilots Hayden Madsen, 33, and Dan Gregory, 28, when the Air Force helicopter in which they were flying crashed north of Wellington. One crewman - Sergeant Stevin Creeggan - survived with severe injuries which led to a medical discharge.

The aftermath of the crash saw the NZ Defence Force criticise culture at 3 Squadron where the servicemen were based but the entire Air Force safety record later came under intense scrutiny.

The Herald revealed the RNZAF's chief accident investigator told the military inquiry he had identified widespread safety issues across the entire Air Force. The report had not been made public because the law protects evidence put forward to military Court of Inquiry investigations.

Further government inquiries saw the Air Force's safety systems and formal inquiry systems overhauled even as Sergeant Creeggan successfully privately prosecuted his commanders for health and safety failures. The coronial inquiry is the final investigation into the crash.

In correspondence supplied to the Herald, Andrew Carson told the coroner his family wanted NZDF to appear at public hearings. "RNZAF Ohakea wrote off a very expensive item of machinery... And above all, the above in no way compares to the Human Toll, their incompetence caused".

Ben Carson. Photo / Supplied
Ben Carson. Photo / Supplied

The Carson family has long pushed for an independent investigation into the crash, aided by the Creeggan family. The military Court of Inquiry was the only full investigation into the crash after the Civil Aviation Authority and then-Department of Labour became confused over whose job it was and neither carried out an inquiry.

In letters to the coroner, Andrew Carson said the basis of the family's insistence for an independent inquiry is that "it seems unbelievable that the RNZAF/NZDF can investigate themselves".

It had been hoped by the Carson's that the coroner's office would make its own inquiries into the accident. The family had also hoped broader issues raised in the RNZAF's Accident Analysis Report would also be probed.

Instead, the coroner's decision shows the redacted Court of Inquiry report was the basis of questions to NZDF. Bell said she had been told that only one of the court's 79 recommendations had yet to be completed.

Bell said the findings she was required to make as a coroner had already been made by the military inquiry. She said she was satisfied "issues and concerns raised by the families that are within my jurisdiction have now been addressed by the NZDF".

An NZDF spokesman said the "comprehensive" Court of Inquiry produced "a large set of recommendations". "Most apply not just to helicopter operations or RNZAF Base Ohakea, but right across the Air Force."

A spokesman for the coronial office said the lengthy delay was a result of other inquiries. "Coroner Bell took jurisdiction in December 2015." The spokesman said consultation with those connected to the accident had taken place to determine whether a public hearing should take place.

- NZ Herald

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