By EUGENE BINGHAM
Garry Norman Sotheran rolled his red-rimmed eyes to the sky and allowed himself a luxury he has barely enjoyed for six weeks: a smile.
The former Ansett New Zealand pilot hugged Mary, his sobbing wife, and walked from the High Court at Palmerston North a free man yesterday after being cleared of seven charges relating to the crash of a commuter flight from Auckland six years ago.
He pressed his lips together as if afraid to enjoy the moment he dreaded would not come, letting his lawyer, Hugh Rennie, QC, speak on his behalf.
"He is completely overcome - as much as he would like to say things himself, he is not up to saying it," said Mr Rennie.
"It's for me to say thanks because it's a bit more than Garry can do today.
"This is the end of a very hard six years. Garry would like to express, really, his overwhelming relief the situation has been resolved ... He is able to get on with his life."
The not guilty verdicts on the four counts of manslaughter and three of injuring passengers in the crash on June 9, 1995, came after two days of jury deliberations.
One hour before the jury members came back with their verdict, Justice Warwick Gendall had called them into court to urge them to reach a unanimous decision.
Mary Sotheran burst into tears, overwhelmed by the stress of waiting.
The couple had sat through the six weeks of the trial, at which the Crown alleged the 45-year-old pilot had been criminally negligent by failing to maintain the height of the aircraft after becoming distracted by a problem with its landing gear.
Captain Sotheran told the jury that he had been let down by his instruments and that his altimeter had not shown him he was flying so low on its easterly approach to Palmerston North.
The decision to prosecute Captain Sotheran angered the Air Line Pilots' Association, which fought police efforts to obtain the cockpit voice recorder.
Association president Keith Molloy said yesterday that pilots around the world would welcome the jury's decision.
"Sanity has prevailed," he said.
"There would have been a hell of a lot of angry pilots if there had been a guilty verdict."
By EUGENE BINGHAM