Govt concedes hotel costs a factor in crash

Air force investigators at work around the wreckage of the 3 Squadron Iroquois helicopter which crashed in steep hill country at Pukerua Bay. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Air force investigators at work around the wreckage of the 3 Squadron Iroquois helicopter which crashed in steep hill country at Pukerua Bay. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman has confirmed hotel costs were a factor in forcing the three men who died in the 2010 Anzac Day air force tragedy to make a long flight in the hour before dawn.

The concession was drawn from Dr Coleman in Parliament after intervention from Speaker Lockwood Smith.

It backed up a story in yesterday's Herald, which was based on the air force's own crash investigation report. The report said an initial plan to fly to Wellington the day before to prepare for the dawn parades was canned because of "pressure on the accommodation budget".

Rooms at the Amora Hotel, used by the air force, are currently $149 a night.

The three helicopters faced an hour's flight in the dark with inadequate qualifications and training. One crashed, killing three people and seriously injuring one.

Dr Coleman had repeatedly said "budgetary considerations" were not a cause of the accident - a statement which backs up Herald reporting of the leaked accident report and the Court of Inquiry report.

Both reports say the crash was caused by organisational failures, safety breaches and a rule-breaking culture which were likely to be found across the air force.

But Dr Coleman was told to answer questions about whether efforts to avoid hotel costs led to the men flying from Manawatu to Wellington the morning they died. He said: "Yes."

The single-word response was his shortest of the day.

Dr Coleman then went on to quote air force bosses, who found the "genesis" of the accident was reorganisation a decade earlier. He said it was "when Labour was in charge".

Former Defence Minister Mark Burton, who was in office in 1999 and 2000, told the Herald in an unpublished interview that defence bosses never raised with him concerns linking cost-cutting to safety.

The leaked report stated the decision not to fly down made the mission more dangerous. It stated "the operational risk to the formation was increased as a result of the decision to conduct an NVG formation transit to Wellington".  

- By David Fisher of the New Zealand Herald

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