Inquiry into Iroquois crash complaint

Family say air force left them out of meetings

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 23/04/2011
NOT INVITED: Ben Carson's brother Nic, left, and parents Pauline and Andrew. They say they were not invited to meetings about the Iroquois crash in which Ben, pictured, died last Anzac Day.
MAARTEN HOLL/ The Dominion Post
GRIEVING: Ben Carson's brother Nic, left, and parents Pauline and Andrew. They say they were not invited to meetings about the Iroquois crash in which Ben, pictured, died last Anzac Day.

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An inquiry has been launched after claims by the parents of an Anzac Day Iroquois crash victim that the air force did not invite them to meetings about the crash investigation, then lied to cover up its mistake.

The review of how the air force treated the parents of Corporal Ben Carson, 25, after the crash, comes at the request of Air Vice Marshal Graham Lintott and Defence Minister Wayne Mapp, who said the air force "has some lessons to learn".

Corporal Carson died alongside Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, and Flying Officer Dan Gregory, 28, when their Iroquois went down near Pukerua Bay on the way to a dawn service fly-past in Wellington last year.

Andrew and Pauline Carson and Ben's brother Nic, 25, say that since then, there have been two meetings at Ohakea Air Base, near Bulls, to keep the victims' families up to date on the Court of Inquiry – but they were not told about the meetings or invited to attend.

The air force also prepared a photo album and DVD of the funeral service at Ohakea, which was distributed to all the family members but them.

Andrew Carson told The Dominion Post that when they found out about the Court of Inquiry meetings in August, they phoned then-Ohakea Air Base commander Tim Walshe and were told "categorically" that there had been no meetings.

Mr Carson said he then produced emails, which not only proved Mr Walshe was at the meetings, but that he also had a hand in organising future ones.

The "excuse" then changed to: "he was at the meetings but may not have known what they were about", Mr Carson said.

"If you've got the families of the boys who were killed, their partners, and the Court of Inquiry head there, then you think he [Mr Walshe] would know what the meeting was about.

"We feel that this guy, Tim Walshe, has stolen from us the opportunity to grieve with those other families."

Mr Carson put their non-invitation down to confusion generated by a legal dispute over who is Ben Carson's next of kin.

Official air force documents say it is Pauline Carson, but Ben's girlfriend at the time of his death was challenging her rights through the courts, Mr Carson said. The legal wrangling meant some of Ben's possessions were still under lock-and-key at Ohakea, he said.

An air force spokesman said Mr Lintott had undertaken to appoint an experienced independent barrister to look into all aspects of support and communication provided to families affected by the Anzac Day crash.

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The spokesman confirmed Pauline Carson is the stated next of kin, but said the air force officially recognised Ben's partner as well. "This has been the source of much of the difficulties we have experienced in supporting the Carson family."

The spokesman declined to comment further till the inquiry was complete.

Dr Mapp told The Dominion Post the Carsons would be consulted as part of the independent inquiry. "We want to hear all the viewpoints and we want to do that independently, so people are satisfied we've looked into it properly and also, quite frankly, learned the lessons we need to learn."

Not keeping the Carsons up to date with the Court of Inquiry was a "big concern", Dr Mapp said. "I think there is a recognition that we could have done things better, in relation to the Carsons."

Earlier this month Dr Mapp apologised to the family of Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, the sole Iroquois crash survivor, who were denied information about their son's critical condition for days after the crash.

- The Dominion Post

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