Chopper pilot criticised over health and safety records

The health and safety policy of a pilot’s company was not updated to reflect new laws introduced before he was involved in a helicopter crash that killed his business partner, the Queenstown District Court heard yesterday.

Pilot Murray Sarginson, of Athol, faces five charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Civil Aviation Act, including reckless conduct and exposing individuals to risk of death or serious injury.

The charges stem from a crash on April 30, 2016  when a Robinson R22 helicopter Sarginson  was flying crashed in foggy conditions near Lindis Pass.

During the trial, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)  criticised Sarginson

for the health and safety records of his earthworks and contracting company, Ag Works South Ltd.  His business partner and passenger on the day of the crash,  Liam Edwards (32), of Otautau, was found dead at the scene shortly after the crash and Sarginson was seriously injured.

CAA  lawyer Stephanie Bishop told the court yesterday the company’s general policy at the time referenced the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, rather than the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which came into effect three weeks before the crash.

"The requirement was on Ag Works to ensure it kept up with health and safety requirements.

"Nowhere in this document is there any reference to emergency procedures."

The two friends had been flying from Athol,  Southland, to Mt Algidus Station,  Canterbury, to go  hunting  and   working.  

Sarginson told the court a copy of Ag Works’ health and safety policy referred to by Ms Bishop was kept  at Mt Algidus Station, but he could not confirm whether a copy kept  at  Athol had been updated before the crash to reflect the law change. The pilot said the documents could not be found  after he was  interviewed about the crash.

Ms Bishop suggested the documents could not be found because they "never existed". She asked whether Sarginson had  read his company’s own health and safety policy, to which he replied he took "offence" at the question. Sarginson had not completed a health and safety course he enrolled in before the crash and still had not completed it, the court heard.

Defence counsel, Colin Withnall QC, argued Sarginson was not at work at the time of the crash and  he would show the CAA’s claims Sarginson was flying an overloaded helicopter in poor conditions were  incorrect.

He said the cross-examination of Sarginson was  turning into "some sort of a crusade or witch-hunt".

The trial is expected to resume next month.

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