Risks blamed for fatal air crash

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 17:20 22/07/2014
Jessica Neeson
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INQUEST WRAPS UP: Jessica Neeson.

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Systematic issues at a Manawatu airfield played a part in the death of two women involved in a mid-air collision, an expert witness has told a coroner's inquest.

Flight Training Manawatu chief instructor Jessica Neeson, 27, and trainee pilot Patricia Smallman, 64, died when their Cessna 152 and another aircraft collided near Taonui Aerodrome on July 6, 2010.

The pilot of the other plane, Manoj Kadam, managed to land safely and has returned to India. He gave evidence for the inquest in February 2011 before he left.

The inquest resumed and wrapped up in Palmerston North today, with seven other people giving evidence.

Among them was Flight Training Manawatu chief executive Michael Bryant, and other members of the Feilding pilot training school.

Captain Gary Parata, an Air New Zealand pilot who is also an accredited air accident investigator with the New Zealand and International airline pilots' associations, gave expert evidence at the inquest.

While saying there was almost never a single cause for mid-air collisions, he identified ''systematic issues'' at the aerodrome which would have played a part in the death of Neeson and Smallman.

At the time of the crash, planes doing circuits flew at 1200 feet while planes surveying the airstrip before entering the circuit - a manoeuvre called an overhead rejoin - were at 1500 feet.

Parata said other counties kept a vertical gap of 1000 feet between the two sets of planes, but in New Zealand the common distance was 500 feet.

The lower height difference in Feilding made things riskier, he said.

''If you lower the 500-feet buffer to 300 feet, that's almost half your buffer gone.

''That is a significant increase in risk right there.''

The fact the circuit height had been lowered to 1100 feet since the crash reinforced the fault of the previous system, he said.

''They are changes which, in my view, lessen the risk.''

But doing the manoeuvre with that small gap was still risky, and Parata suggested students should be taught how to do an overhead re-join at other nearby airfields where the vertical gap could be a good option.

He also said both sets of pilots were also likely to have been at fault, as it seemed they did not exercise the ''see and be seen'' rule.

Outside of the inquest, Neeson's mother Lyn Neeson said she was relieved the inquest was finally over.

''It's good to get this through and move one.''

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''I have faith the coroner will come up with valuable recommendations, and I'll be working hard to push them through.''

''We hope the outcome of the coroner's inquest today will make it a one-in-50 year occurrence.
Witnesses said there had been near misses around the aerodrome, one allegedly happening days before the fatal crash.

Lyn Neeson said she was shocked to hear that, suggesting safety changes could have been made earlier.

Coroner Tim Scott reserved his decision.

- The Dominion Post

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