The Defence Force was not completely to blame for the "miscommunication" that angered some of the victims' families in the wake of the Anzac Day Iroquois crash, an independent inquiry has found.
But the review by Wellington barrister Matthew McClelland has recommended 26 changes to Defence Force protocol in the wake of the tragedy. They include appointing staff to be dedicated points of contact for family after personnel are killed in action, and making sure the wills of all Defence Force staff are up to date.
The McClelland inquiry was begun in April 2011 after a string of gaffes by the Defence Force in how it dealt with the families of Corporal Ben Carson, who died in the 2010 crash, and Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, who was severely injured but survived.
The findings into the Defence Force's dealings with Ben Carson's parents, Andrew and Pauline, obtained by The Dominion Post yesterday, acknowledge some "significant shortcomings" but say that in each instance an apology was made and steps were taken to prevent a repeat.
Much of the Carsons' anger stemmed from their exclusion from meetings arranged to update the victims' families on the crash investigation, and a two-year battle to have their son's personal items returned, caused by a legal dispute between them and their son's partner, Philippa Neill.
In his findings, Mr McClelland said the "genesis" of the Defence Force's failings was a breakdown in communication that, in part, resulted from the Carsons' "relative isolation" from Ohakea Air Force Base, near Bulls.
They were living in Christchurch at the time of the crash.
Commanding officers were also making life difficult for themselves by dealing directly with grieving family while also managing the aftermath of the tragedy on the base, Mr McClelland said.
"Sight should not be lost of the fact that the families and partners of Flight Lieutenant [Hayden] Madsen and Flying Officer [Dan] Gregory, and Ms Neill, all speak positively of [the air force's] post-crash management."
The Carsons' toxic relationship with the Defence Force resulted partly from the fact that they raised concerns with as many Defence Force staff as possible, which led to "mixed messages", Mr McClelland said. "In my view, the level of support provided to the Carsons . . . was very appropriate and responsive."
He did not criticise the Defence Force for withholding Corporal Carson's personal possessions for about two years, saying it was right to do so until the dispute over his estate had been settled. He did not have a will at the time of his death.
Mr Carson said he was disappointed the findings had not directly addressed the one question he wanted answered, which was why he and his wife were left off the email list for the crash investigation meetings. "And I hardly consider an email saying, ‘sorry, we forgot about you' to be an apology."
Sergeant Creeggan's father, John, said last night that he had not received a copy of the McClelland findings, despite being told it would arrive yesterday.
The Defence Force said it could not comment as it had also not received the report.
THE STORY SO FAR
APRIL 25, 2010: Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, Flying Officer Dan Gregory, 28, and Corporal Ben Carson, 25, are killed when their Iroquois helicopter goes down in cloudy conditions near Pukerua Bay en route to a dawn service fly-past in Wellington. A fourth crewman, Sergeant Stevin Creeggan, survives but suffers extensive head, chest and leg injuries.
APRIL 28, 2010: Then Defence Minister Wayne Mapp apologises to John and Gaile Creeggan for incorrectly telling media soon after the crash that their son had died. Dr Mapp said he was acting on incorrect information from the Defence Force and police.
APRIL 6, 2011: Dr Mapp apologises to the Creeggans again after The Dominion Post reveals they were denied information about their son's critical condition at Wellington Hospital because a former girlfriend was incorrectly recognised as Sergeant Creeggan's next of kin.
APRIL 23, 2011: A review of how the Defence Force treated the victims' families after the crash is begun after Andrew and Pauline Carson claim they were not invited to meetings about the crash investigation.
26 recommendations were made in total, the bulk of which outline the establishment of dedicated points of contact for family members after Defence Force personnel are killed in action.
Partners and next of kin should be notified of tragic events at the earliest opportunity.
Each serviceman/woman should be encouraged, on an annual basis, to make or update their will.
They should be provided with an information sheet explaining what "next of kin" is and what that person's entitlements are.
Guidelines should be developed for the distribution of dead personnel's hats and other items after their funerals.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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