Thursday, April 11, 2013

Hearing told of 'culture' of ignoring orders: Bell UH-1H Iroquois, NZ3806 - Accident occurred April 25, 2010 - Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington - New Zealand

LATEST: A retired squadron leader giving evidence at a hearing of an officer charged over the fatal Anzac Day Iroquois crash that killed three men says there was a 'culture' of ignoring some flight orders.
A summary proceedings hearing for Flight Lieutenant Daniel John Pezaro, 30, is being held at the Ohakea Air Force Base today in front of disciplinary officer Wing Commander Shaun Sexton.

Pezaro is charged with negligently failing to perform a duty, after failing to abort the mission of the formation when weather conditions deteriorated so much that visibility was lost.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, Flying Officer Dan Gregory, 28, and Corporal Ben Carson, 25, were killed when their 3 Squadron Iroquois helicopter crashed in thick cloud at Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington, about 6am on April 25, 2010.

A fourth crew member, Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, survived with serious injuries.

Pezaro was the formation leader of the three Iroquois flying to Wellington from Ohakea for a ceremonial fly-past.


In cross examination this afternoon, Retired Squadron Leader Rob Stockley admitted there was a "culture" of ignoring Minimum Separation Distance (MSD) orders that was supported by unit commanders.

When cross examined by Defence Squadron Leader Ron Thacker, he said there were contradictory orders in place that suggested MSD levels were absolute, and another order which allowed for weather variances.

Earlier today, in an edited version of an interview with Pezaro, he admitted his focus was on the flyover itself, and less on the transit from Ohakea to Wellington.

The hearing heard a recording of a phone call where he admitted that poor weather conditions had forced him to fly between 200-250ft lower than the recommended Minimum Separation Distance (MSD) of 600ft, before the crash happened.

Stockley gave evidence this morning that Pezaro had contacted him the day before the flight and told him that bad weather was forecast.

Stockley assured Pezaro that if he decided to abort the flyover, Stockley would back him up and no pressure was placed on him to carry through.

When asked if he would have thought Pezaro should have aborted the flight altogether Stockley said the expectation was pilots would "have a look" and they could have set down in Paraparaumu if they needed to.

If they were unlikely to be able to make their first task - a flyover of the cenotaph in Wellington at 6.15am - there were still three further flyovers they potentially could have made later in the morning, he said.

Before the crash, Stockley said it was accepted practice that bad weather was considered an appropriate reason to break MSD, provided there was an escape route or clear route to turn back.

After the crash, Stockley's views were radically changed, and he now believed that they should only be broken if the pilot had no other option, or were forced.

Choosing to break MSD was not forced, he said.

Seven witnesses were expected to be called by prosecution, and it was hoped they will be finished giving evidence by the end of the day.


Two witnesses have been called by prosecutor squadron leader Anthony Budd, and an edited video interview featuring Pezaro has been shown.

In the video Pezaro said there were three sets of orders given. He described them as ''a shambles''.

Evidence also heard at the hearing mentioned that the temporary orders given were not written in mandatory language.

In an edited version of an interview with Pezaro, he admitted his focus was on the flyover itself, and less on the transit from Ohakea to Wellington.

The offence Pezaro is facing has a maximum sentence of two years' jail under the Armed Forces Discipline Act.

A court of inquiry report into the crash was published in December 2011, and found the flight should have been aborted when the squadron met cloud below 600 feet near Paraparaumu.

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