Thursday, March 23, 2017

Not our pilot: Legal battle over Beechcraft B200 Super King Air, Corporate and Leisure Charters, VH-ZCR; fatal accident occurred February 21, 2017 near Melbourne-Essendon Airport, Australia

UPDATE 9.40am: The head of an aviation company seeking to distance itself from last month's DFO plane crash said on the day of the tragedy the destroyed aircraft had been registered with the company for “a week or so”. 

Fairfax Media is reporting the Australian Corporate Jet Centre CEO sent an email to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority at 1.27pm on February 21 saying the crashed plane had “nothing to do with our company” and that it would not be requiring the certificate. 

The company received an email from CASA confirming its ownership of the plane at 12.01pm. The email said the decision was actioned on February 16.  

Australian Corporate Jet Centre CEO Vas Nikolovski told the Bendigo Advertiser at approximately 1.19pm his company registered the plane “a week or so” ago. 

“My Jet is the owner, although it's on our certificate to charter and use for commercial purpose,” Mr Nikolovski said. 

“In order to be able to operate an aircraft for venue, for it to be chartered, it needs to be on air operator certificate.

“It's only just come across on our certificate a week or so ago.” 

Civil Aviation Safety Authority records show Australian Corporate Jet Centres became the registered operator of VH-ZCR on February 16, just five days before it went down.

EARLIER: The aviation company potentially facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over the Essendon DFO disaster was told three hours after the crash that the plane involved had been registered in its name.

As the wreckage smoldered at 12.01pm on February 21, and it was confirmed that five lives had been lost, Australian Corporate Jet Centres received an email from the aviation authority confirming it was the plane's registered operator.

The company's CEO replied at 1.27pm: "Unfortunately this aircraft was destroyed in an accident today which you may have seen in the media, the plane was flown by Max Quatermaine [sic] under his AOC – Corporate and Leisure Travel and had nothing to do with our company. Sad news all round but we won't be requiring the certificate."

With the threat of lawsuits and insurance payouts mounting over Victoria's worst aviation disaster in 30 years, the Essendon-based company has sought to have its registration overturned.

Australian Corporate Jet Centres claims it was not responsible for the plane due to an administrative bungle over a $65 application fee in December.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority records show Australian Corporate Jet Centres became the registered operator of VH-ZCR on February 16, just five days before it went down.

Emails published in a finding by the Commonwealth's Administrative Appeals Tribunal show the company did not find out its application to transfer registration had been approved until midday on February 21 – three hours after the crash at 8.58am.

"Your application was actioned ... it should be on its way in the mail," CASA wrote in the email sent at 12.01pm.

With the media spotlight intensifying and emergency services still on the scene, the company's CEO, Sam Iliades, replied to CASA telling it that the plane had gone down. The plane was being flown by pilot Max Quartermain under his air operator certificate, he wrote.

The company continues to maintain that position: "It was not our air operator's certificate, not our client, not our revenue, not our pilot," Australian Corporate Jet Centres said in a statement on Monday.

Fairfax Media understands just who was legally responsible for the flight is still being investigated.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been sifting through the wreckage of the plane, trying to piece together what caused it to go down shortly after take-off.

A recent preliminary report found that both engines and propellers appeared to be in working order at the time of the flight and that there was no evidence of mechanical failure.

Australian Corporate Jet Centres recently applied to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to have the CASA registration decision overturned but the matter was dismissed due to a lack of jurisdiction.

The matter was taken to the tribunal after the company originally had its application to become the plane's operator cancelled in late December because incorrect credit card details were used to pay the $65 application fee.

According to emails published in the tribunal finding, the company was not informed its application had been cancelled.

On January 30 the company emailed the regulator to find out what the delay was, only to be told the transfer had not gone through.

A new application was submitted and approved just over two weeks later.

CASA updated its register on February 16, sending out a letter to Australian Corporate Jet Centres and the previous registered operator, MyJet Aviation, informing them of the change.

The letter also contained a reminder of the operator's obligations.

These included the display of nationality and registration marks, as well as responsibility for airworthiness and maintenance. 

When the letter hadn't arrived by February 20, Mr Iliades sent another email asking CASA about the "status of the registered operator application".

The response came a day later, when the plane had already crashed.

Any lawsuit could run into tens of millions of dollars, with the family of the passengers plus the hundreds of people who witnessed the crash all having a potential claim. At least three law firms have been retained, Fairfax understands.

"[The case] could generate a very large lawsuit for the entity that is found to be responsible under the law of negligence for the air crash by a court," Shine Lawyers aviation department manager Thomas Janson said.

Negligence is yet to be proved in the case, as investigators continue to work through the plane's wreckage. But if it could be proved, hundreds of bystanders who saw the flight go down might be able to claim for nervous shock, Mr Janson said.

Read more here:

Collision with terrain involving B200 King Air VH-ZCR at Essendon Airport, Victoria on February 21, 2017:

NTSB Identification: CEN17RA106
Accident occurred Monday, February 20, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia
Aircraft: RAYTHEON B200, registration:
Injuries: 5 Fatal.

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

On February 20, 2017, at 2159 hours universal coordinated time (0859 hours Australian eastern daylight time on February 21, 2017), a Raytheon model B200 (King Air) airplane, Australian registration VH-ZCR, impacted a building and roadway shortly after takeoff from runway 17 (4,934 feet by 148 feet, asphalt) at Melbourne/Essendon Airport (YMEN), Victoria, Australia. A post-impact fire ensued. The pilot and four passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed. The intended destination was the King Island Airport (YKII), Currie, Tasmania, Australia.

The accident investigation is under the jurisdiction of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. This report is for informational purposes only and contains information released by or obtained from the government Australia.

Further information pertaining to this accident may be obtained from:

Australian Transport Safety Bureau

PO Box 967
Civic Square ACT 2608
Tel: +61 2 6257 4150

 Max Quartermain

John Washburn

Pilot Max Quartermain, Russell Munsch, Glenn Garland and Greg De Haven.

Glenn Garland, Russell Munsch, Greg DeHaven and a fourth golfing partner (left) at Cape Kidnappers golf course in New Zealand.

Update: The fourth victim in a plane crash in Melbourne, Australia, has been identified for Statesman by family members as 67-year-old retiree John Washburn of Spicewood.

Washburn, was a next-door neighbor with another crash victim, Austin-based bankruptcy attorney Russell Munsch.

Washburn, Munsch, Greg De Haven, also of Spicewood, and former executive Glenn Garland had chartered a flight during a golfing vacation that was to take them from Melbourne to King Island, about 150 miles off the southern Australian coast.

The Beechcraft B200 Super King Air crashed shortly after takeoff into an outlet mall adjacent to the airport, killing the four men and their Australian pilot, Max Quartermain.

No one outside the plane was injured.

Washburn had been an executive and general counsel at Sammons Enterprises in Dallas until he retired several years ago.

Earlier: Four tourists, including three from the Austin area, and a pilot were killed when their small charter plane crashed into a shopping mall in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday.

Greg De Haven of Spicewood, bankruptcy lawyer Russell Munsch, and retired Austin executive Glenn Garland have been identified by relatives on social media and Australian media reports as three of the victims.

De Haven’s sister, Denelle Wicht, posted on Facebook that her 70-year-old brother had been killed "on a once in a lifetime trip to Australia" with friends.

“It was a charter flight with 2 of his friends flying to another island to play golf,” she wrote.

The Australian pilot, Max Quartermain, who was ferrying the tourists on their golfing vacation, also was killed.

The U.S. Embassy in the Australian capital of Canberra confirmed that four victims were American citizens, but the fourth victim has not yet been identified.

The twin-propeller Beechcraft Super King Air was supposed to carry the four tourists from Melbourne, on Australia’s southern coast, about 150 miles offshore to King Island, just north of Tasmania.

But shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed into an outlet mall near the airport in suburban Essendon about 45 minutes before shops were to open, Melbourne Police Minister Lisa Neville told the Associated Press.

The pilot reported a "catastrophic engine failure" moments before the plane crashed into a storage area at the rear of the mall, police said.

No one outside the plane was injured, Police Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said.

Munsch, who received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas, was a founding partner of the Texas commercial law firm Munsch, Hardt, Kopf and Harr, which has offices in Dallas, Houston and Austin.

Garland was a former CEO at Austin-based CLEAResult Consulting, which designs energy-efficiency programs and strategies for utilities and businesses.

CLEAResult expressed its condolences to Garland’s family and the company’s co-founder, Jim Stimmel, said Garland “was more than a colleague to me, he was a visionary and a close friend.”

“I am devastated to hear of his passing and my heart and thoughts are with his family,” Stimmel said in a statement. “We have all lost an incredible man.”

De Haven’s sister told the New York Daily News that De Haven had been a retired FBI agent and an Army veteran who was survived by his wife, Rosemary, three children and six grandchildren.

De Haven is listed as a professional golfer on a LinkedIn profile, with a skill in golf instruction.


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