The only man to survive the Anzac Day helicopter crash in 2010 made the Defence Force a better employer by his tenacity and resolve to hold it to account for its failings, a judge says.
Still aching from the injuries suffered in the crash that killed three others, Sergeant Stevin Creeggan was in court yesterday for the Defence Force to plead guilty to the charge he had personally taken against it of failing to protect the men from the hazards of operating helicopters.
In Wellington District Court, Judge Bill Hastings said Creeggan was proof that one person could make a difference, and the Defence Force was a better employer as a result of his actions.
Defence has already paid $70,000 to Creeggan and his family, and the families of the three men who died - Flight Lieutenant Hayden Madsen, 33, who was captaining the flight; co-pilot Flying Officer Dan Gregory, 28; and crewman Corporal Ben Carson, 25.
The judge ordered another $20,000 reparation to each. The Defence Force had immunity from being fined.
Outside court afterwards, Creeggan said Defence's apology had been surprising and heartfelt, and very well received.
"I hope this is the start of seeing the defence forces looked after, where this kind of thing doesn't happen again and now means the loss of Ben, [Hayden] and Dan has actually meant something, the start of looking after those people, and that's what this whole thing's meant."
Creeggan is soon to leave for the United States, where the Defence Force is paying for him to attend a course to equip him for civil aviation work when he leaves the air force.
Earlier, he spoke emotionally of the permanent effect of his injuries, and his distrust of the force command. His parents told of their fears and struggle to help him.
Having to give up his alaskan malamute dog, Atka, to be rehomed, because he could not look after her, brought especially dark days.
Ben Carson was from a family with strong air force connections. His father, Andrew, said in a statement read on his behalf, that Ben was killed by Defence Force incompetence and a total lack of caring.
Chief Air Vice-Marshal Mike Yardley was in court for the Defence Force. Afterwards he repeated the unreserved apology given in court. "The only amends Defence can make is to ensure that the lessons of this tragedy also never go away."
The legacy of the crash had been an overhaul of the Defence Force's approach to safety and the necessary changes had been made, he said.
The Iroquois helicopter from Ohakea crashed on its way to Wellington with two other helicopters scheduled to make flypasts at a series of Anzac Day commemorations. Their course changed when they flew into clouds and one crashed into the head of a valley east of Pukerua Bay.
Creeggan's lawyer, Tim Mackenzie, read a summary that was a series of training, experience, and planning failures. Equipment also needed improving.
Defence had not made sure the crew of the crashed helicopter were competent and qualified for the job, and their "can do" attitude may have led them to carry on to complete the task when they should not have.
- The Dominion Post