View Full Version : Ansett Dash 8 Crash - Pointless Prosecution

7th Jun 2001, 02:51
The saga of the Ansett 703 accident in New Zealand is something we should all be aware about. I know that many pilots around the world have varying degrees of recollection/knowledge of the accident and I have often seen questions asked about AN703 on this site. By association with aviation, we all have an interest in this case and I think the following editorial will be very enlightening for the wider aviation community.

NZ Dominion
Prosecution a costly waste
07 June 2001

'Former Ansett Dash 8 pilot Garry Sotheran should never have been prosecuted over the 1995 crash on approach to Palmerston North airport. This was a million dollar waste of time and money, The Dominion writes in an editorial.

The crash, which caused the deaths of four of the 21 people on board the aircraft, was the result of a series of events, most of which Captain Sotheran had no control over. It was an accident, one waiting to happen, but still an accident.

As the defence noted during the six-week trial, no law enforcement agency anywhere else in the developed world would have prosecuted a pilot whose plane crashed in similar circumstances. The jury which acquitted him last week of four charges of manslaughter and three of unlawfully injuring passengers finally brought in the sanity which should have prevailed much earlier.

Seven months before the crash of Flight 703 from Auckland, the Airways Corporation introduced a new instrument approach to Palmerston North for planes landing in bad weather. Instead of the approach, in this case, being over the Manawatu Plain, it was over the Tararua Ranges and the Manawatu Gorge, notorious for its strong winds. Some pilots did not feel safe with this approach and refused to use it. The change of approach was the first event which led to the crash.

The second was the undercarriage problem on the Dash 8. The airline was aware of the problem and had ordered replacement parts, but it had not told Captain Sotheran or First Officer Barry Brown. As they descended over the ranges in thick clouds and strong winds, the right landing gear failed to come down. The pilots had to consult a manual to find out how to lower it.

Next, neither pilot noticed they had fallen below the glide path. They should have been at 2500ft but hit the ground at 1357ft. It remains unclear from all the weeks of evidence exactly why. They were obviously wrestling with the landing gear, but the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder showed they were actively flying the plane. The aerial which feeds the altimeter and the ground proximity warning system had been painted, contrary to a clear warning stencilled on the fuselage. The aerial's inside was corroded. Captain Sotheran said the altimeter suddenly dropped 1000ft just before impact. The GPWS sounded just four seconds before impact rather than its intended 18 seconds, though this may have been because it was fooled by the landing gear coming down. A sudden downdraught could also have been to blame.

All this – the change of flight path, the crew not being told relevant information, the belated warning from the GPWS – sounds eerily like an echo of the 1979 Air New Zealand DC10 crash at Mt Erebus, which was initially blamed on the pilots. The airline's fault was established later by the diligent work of Justice Mahon, the royal commissioner.

The police, who spent $1.1 million in their determination to haul Captain Sotheran into court, should have abandoned the attempts when they failed, in country after country, to find experts and pilots to testify against him.'