Thursday, November 21, 2013

Family denies pilot was taunted: PZL-Mielec M-18A Dromader, VH-TZJ, accident occurred October 24, 2013, west of Ulladulla, New South Wales - Australia

The family of the late David Black refuted allegations made in a Senate estimates committee on Monday where it was claimed Mr Black was taunted by Rural Fire Service (RFS) personnel on the morning of his fatal accident. 

 On Tuesday The RFS denied any knowledge of alleged taunts by its members towards Mr Black on the day his plane crashed while battling the Shoalhaven bushfires.

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan told the parliamentary committee he had heard Mr Black was taunted by RFS members for voicing his concerns about flying conditions.

Mr Black, 43, was killed when his Dromader hit the ground in the Budawang National Park, near Ulladulla on October 24.

Senator Heffernan said pilots were reluctant to fly because of poor weather but Mr Black was told “real men and real pilots would be up there”.

In a media statement released late Tuesday afternoon members of Mr Black’s family and his work colleagues said the pilot had not been taunted by RFS personnel on the morning of the accident.

“There was a minor incident involving some comments the day previous, involving an air base manager and other pilots at a different base from where Mr Black was operating,” the statement said.

“The comments related to the pilots’ decision to stand down due to extreme weather conditions. Mr Black, as chief pilot of the company, responded to employee pilots reporting the matter to him by raising the issue within the appropriate Rural Fire Service chain of command.”

As there was an active Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation into the accident, and as the NSW Coroner was also likely to consider the fatality, the family said comments by other parties were not helpful to the family in dealing with the tragedy.

A RFS spokesperson said the organization had not heard the claims until Mr Heffernan made them and they have begun an investigation.

“The NSW Rural Fire Service has no information in relation to the allegations of pilots being taunted on the day of Mr Black’s tragic death,” the spokesperson said.

“Given the serious nature of the allegations the NSW RFS has launched an immediate investigation into the matter and will be in a position to make a statement once we are in possession of all the facts.”

The ATSB is investigating the crash and a spokesperson said Mr Heffernan’s statement would be taken into consideration.

Pilots are contracted to the RFS when they carry out water-bombing and the ATSB is expected to talk to the RFS regarding the water bombing operation.

The investigation into the crash is only in the early stages and a final report into what caused the crash is still months away but a preliminary report released by the ATSB indicates the left wing broke off when an attachment lug failed.

Inspections of wings on Dromader aircraft every 500 hours or 12 months became mandatory after a series of Dromader crashes involving wings breaking in flight. Just a week before the accident, Mr Black’s Dromader had 110 hours in service since its last inspection.

In-flight breakup involving PZL Mielec M18A Dromader aircraft, VH-TZJ, 37 km west of Ulladulla, NSW on 24 October 2013

Investigation number: AO-2013-187