David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Anzac Day crash inquiry promise from NZ First

Pledge thrills parents of airman killed in chopper tragedy but baffles family of another.
Pauline Carson and Andrew Carson, the parents of Ben Carson. Photo / Peter Meecham
Pauline Carson and Andrew Carson, the parents of Ben Carson. Photo / Peter Meecham

The parents of a dead airman were last night delighted by a promise from NZ First that it would establish a Commission of Inquiry into the 2010 military helicopter crash which killed their son and two others if the party was in government after the next election.

Andrew Carson said he and wife Pauline were "absolutely thrilled" at the pledge from NZ First which would lead to the first inquiry into the crash to be conducted outside the military.

He said he wanted the Commission of Inquiry to focus on the military commanders in place at the time to determine whether they knew of problems found to have caused the crash.

Their son Ben Carson, 25, was killed along with pilots Hayden Madsen, 33, and Dan Gregory, 28. The sole survivor was Stevin Creeggan who was left with lifelong injuries as a result of the crash.

The crash happened on Anzac Day in 2010 before dawn when the helicopters - flying from Ohakea air base to Wellington along the coast - lost visibility, turned inland into cloud and crashed above Pukerua Bay.

The military inquiry was damning, finding those flying were not sufficiently qualified to do so and were victims of a risk-taking culture. This and other factors combined with bad weather for a fatal outcome.

NZ First justice and security spokesman Denis O'Rourke said the party's caucus had discussed the lack of any independent inquiry into the crash, which was capped by the recent "unacceptable" decision of the coroner to accept the results of the military investigation.

O'Rourke said "there was good reason inquire into the culpability by some of the officers responsible" for the "entirely preventable" crash when "the Air Force's inquiry pointed to direct disobedience of orders and other serious shortcomings by Air Force officers".

New Zealand First MP Denis O'Rourke.
New Zealand First MP Denis O'Rourke.

"Worse, the Air Force has sought to sweep aside the fact that one of its own most experienced officers, Squadron Leader Russell Kennedy, wrote an accident analysis report which covered a poor safety record throughout the whole of the Air Force's flying operations over a significant period before and up to the crash."

Kennedy's report has been a key feature of Herald reporting into the crash. The official Court of Inquiry report focused on 3 Squadron and the risk-taking culture among its Iriquois pilots and crew.

Kennedy examined the entire air force and found: ""The RNZAF does not have the appropriate and effective processes to adequately and reliably ensure safe and effective military air operations."

O'Rourke said the lack of transparency around the crash was compounded by confusion between the Civil Aviation Authority and the former Department of Labour. Both thought the other had responsibility so neither investigated.

When Creeggan took a private prosecution against his then-commanders using the health and safety legislation not prosecuted by the Department of Labour, the Defence Force pleaded guilty. The decision to do so meant there was no court-based inquiry into the crash.

The final opportunity for an inquiry lay with the coroner who ruled last month that she would accept the military findings into the crash.

O'Rourke said it was "not acceptable" that the final opportunity for an independent review had been passed by and it "adds oil to the fire and deprives the still grieving families of the justice they desperately need".

He said NZ First "has offered the families concerned a commitment to establish a Commission of Inquiry following next year's general election".

It would allow a "full investigation into the crash with the power to determine whether there is any individual culpability for which any person might properly to be charged with an offence".

Comment has been sought from defence minister Gerry Brownlee and from the NZ Defence Force.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 25 Oct 2016 16:31:19 Processing Time: 914ms