Anzac Day flight leader to be tried

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 14:19 13/04/2013

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An air force disciplinary officer has decided the flight leader of a fatal helicopter crash, on Anzac Day in 2010, does have a case to answer.

Disciplinary officer Wing Commander Shaun Sexton amended the charge against Flight Lieutenant Daniel John Pezaro, 30, after 2 hours of deliberations at the end of a two-day hearing at Ohakea Air Force Base.

Pezaro now faces a charge of negligently failing to abort a transit flight between Ohakea and Wellington when weather conditions deteriorated below recommended flying conditions. His original charge was negligently failing to abort the overall mission.

Pezaro has elected to be tried summarily and the proceedings will reconvene on Monday with evidence from the defence.

Among the final witnesses called to give evidence yesterday was Air Commodore Peter Port, who told the proceedings he believed Pezaro's actions were negligent.

"He wasn't on search and rescue or counterterrorism, he was going to fly over an Anzac Day parade and in my opinion that doesn't justify breaking the rules."

Air Commodore Port's two main concerns related to Pezaro's decision to continue with the flight amid bad conditions, and the composition and qualifications of the crew.

Air Commodore Port said it appeared that mission planning around the fly-pasts was very detailed but that the level of planning for the transit portion of the mission wasn't of the same standard. Flying in formation was "unwieldy and ungainly", and Pezaro had options aside from carrying on.

Air Commodore Port felt Pezaro should have turned back, or could have ordered two of the helicopters to land at Paraparaumu and had just one continue on, which would have been much less of a risk, he said.

A culture of rule-breaking was a theme explored in the hearing.

Under cross-examination by Ron Thacker, Air Commodore Port said he didn't know the culture of Squadron 3, of which he was commanding officer between 1996 and 1999.

As for the culture of breaking the rules in Squadron 3, he said a culture should not supersede the rules.

If the culture had deteriorated to the levels he had been hearing about, it was "very sad".

He agreed there seemed to be some area for discretion around low flying and that those decisions would be made depending on the pilot's training.

However, he did not feel he needed to know the culture of the squadron to made a judgment as to whether Pezaro had acted negligently.

Also giving evidence yesterday was Pezaro's co-pilot, Flight Lieutenant Stuart Anderson, who told the hearing a radar on the helicopter, which was set to make a warning sound when the helicopter reached a level of 250 feet or below had gone off at least twice during the Anzac Day flight.

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On day one of the proceeding, a recording of Pezaro describing flying between 200ft and 250ft was played.

Flight Lieutenant Anderson attested to the culture of infringing limits, saying "a large proportion" of the squadron considered some orders open to discretion and he himself had flown with executive officers who had exercised that discretion freely.

On the day of the crash, he was comfortable flying at levels well below those recommended and he would have been happy to go even lower.

- Manawatu Standard

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