Air force safety boosted - review

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 08:00 15/12/2012
Helicopter
BRUCE MORTIMER

An emergency response helicopter hovers near the crash site of an air force Iroquois on Anzac Day 2010.

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The father of one of the three airmen who died in the Anzac Day Iroquois tragedy has welcomed the latest report into the crash, but says it will not change much for his family.

Steve Gregory's son, Flying Officer Daniel Gregory, 28, died along with Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, and crewman Corporal Ben Carson, 25, when their helicopter, one of three flying to 2010 Anzac Day commemorations in Wellington, crashed at Pukerua Bay.

After investigating the crash, a Court of Inquiry made 27 major recommendations when it found numerous shortcomings in the air force's approach to safety.

Yesterday, State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie released an independent review on how well these had been taken on board. He found all but four had been implemented while the rest would be in place by June.

Speaking to the Manawatu Standard, Mr Gregory said from his family's point of view the report did not change anything, though he did hope the adoption of the safety recommendations would make future accidents less likely.

"It doesn't change our situation. I'm obviously relieved it's less likely to happen again."

Mr Gregory said air force personnel had clearly been hit by the accident as much as the families had.

He had not taken much stock of recent media reports that the helicopters and their crew were stopped from flying down to Wellington the day before because of the cost of hotel accommodation.

"Most organisations look to cut costs," he said. "It's easy to criticise in hindsight. For an accident like that to happen a whole bunch of things had to go wrong."

Senior New Zealand Defence Force personnel said the report reinforced the positive changes made to air safety since the accident.

"On Anzac Day, 2010, we tragically lost three of our airmen and a fourth crewman was seriously injured. Since then we have been implementing changes to prevent similar accidents occurring," Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Rhys Jones said.

"The SSC report confirms that we have put in place appropriate management arrangements to support the implementation of the Court of Inquiry recommendations and put in place the right progress-reporting mechanisms."

Air force chief Air Vice-Marshal Peter Stockwell said a wide range of actions had been undertaken to improve the air force's safety and operations.

Labour defence spokesman and Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the review provided a lesson on what happened when efficiency was made a priority over safety.

"The [report] notes that while the air force has made good progress in implementing the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry, there is no room for complacency.

"Clearly some of the choices that were made in the leadup to Anzac Day 2010 played a significant role in the accident. Some of those choices were made for the sake of efficiency and they turned out to be tradeoffs that compromised safety. That should not be allowed to happen again," he said.

"At a time when the Government has placed a huge amount of pressure on the NZDF to ‘do more with less' and make sweeping organisational changes, the focus must always remain on keeping our armed services personnel as safe as possible."

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Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said he was confident the air force was improving its safety record after the review. "As minister of defence my oversight role is to ensure the extensive safety recommendations laid out by the Court of Inquiry are adopted and that any other steps necessary are taken."

- Manawatu Standard

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