Chopper charges dropped

By Zaryd Wilson

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CRASH: The helicopter accident that killed pilot Peter Robb in 2014. PHOTO/STUART MUNRO
CRASH: The helicopter accident that killed pilot Peter Robb in 2014. PHOTO/STUART MUNRO

Nine charges relating to the death of Whanganui helicopter pilot Peter Robb were dropped yesterday by the Civil Aviation Authority following an out-of-court settlement.

An experienced pilot, Mr Robb, 56, was the only person on board the helicopter which came down on to Koatanui Rd around 9.30am on October 28, 2014, after hitting an electrical wire while carrying out agricultural spraying at Koatanui Farm.

Court documents show those who operated the farm, Nicola Rosemae Gower-James, Knud Michael Bukholt, John Gower-James and the Takiri Family Trust, each faced two charges that - both as principal and an employer - they failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of Mr Robb.

Mark Gower-James, Nicola's husband, who has since died, was charged as an employee of the farm for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure no harm would come to Mr Robb.

The defendants were not required to appear at the Whanganui District Court yesterday when CAA lawyer Stephanie Bishop withdrew the charges.

A CAA spokesperson confirmed there had been a confidential out-of-court settlement and said it would not comment until today when it would release a statement.

The spokesperson also said the party it settled with was expected to release a statement today.

All nine charges were laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and carried a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine.

The helicopter was a Hughes 500E model, a light utility chopper that can hold up to five people and measures 9.4m in length.

Professor Gordon Anderson, of Victoria University's School of Law, told the Chronicle an out-of-court settlement was "relatively unusual with criminal cases".

He suspected it meant the CAA had either decided it was unlikely to get a conviction or some payment had been made to the victims.

Dr Bill Hodge, of the University of Auckland, also said a settlement was not common but a payment made to the victim's family could often be a better outcome than fines paid.

"I think justice for the family is probably the trump card here," he said.

For aviation commentator Peter Clark there were questions about the case that needed to be answered in the public domain.

"I would like to know what they are settling," he said. "I don't see how it can be confidential with a public department - there's a lot of grey areas with this.

"It's still an out-of-court settlement on a safety issue and there are a lot of things that we need to look at and get answered."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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