View Full Version : Criminal Prosecutions of Flight Crew

14th Jul 2005, 05:38
Hey guys,

I am a final year law student and a PPL holder. Iím about to write a research project looking at the problems associated with a threat of possible criminal sanctions against flight crew after an accident. Iím hoping also to examine the fact that in Australia, CVR transcripts are not admissible as evidence against flight crew and whether this is/is not a

I realise that this is a controversial issue but would be interested in any views people might have on the above issues, this is not so much to argue onw way or another (as yet) but more to get peoples views either way. Any possible hints as to good sources of information would also be great help. If you prefer to PM be instead that is fine. This is just for background research but if you could at least let me know what sector of aviation/admin/safety etc you are from that would help.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks for your time,


14th Jul 2005, 05:44

May I suggest you try a global search on PPRuNe, see upper right, there has been much discussion on this subject in Dunnunda and elswhere.


14th Jul 2005, 09:07
there was a case over here back in 95/96 when the ansett dash 8 crashed, not sure what the end result was but i think the pilot got off

14th Jul 2005, 11:51
Yes that was quite a "watershed" case. I am a long time student of accident investigation so forgive the following sermon!

An Ansett DHC8 crashed into hills east of Palmerston North during poor weather whilst on a VOR/DME arc approach for RWY 25. As is often the case there were many contributing factors including SOP (No A/P on approaches and no compulsory MAP for malfunctions on approach), bad WX, mechanical failure (one gear wouldn't come down), GPWS failure, unfavourable approach design (over a notorious wind and turbulence funnel), ATC not monitoring profile and crew probably didn't have 1 head up at all times.

However the NZ Police showed no interest in the long accepted "systems" approach to crash investigation - they wanted one thing - convictions. And its much easier to convict a pilot than the WX, foreign manufacturer, airline, etc.

There were protests from ICAO, IFALPA, NZALPA, Investigators groups, etc the consensus being that allowing CVR's as evidence would endanger future investigations and thus lives. That was true - I flew in NZ then, and crews pulling the CVR CB became a common occurence. Hence a subsequent prang investigation could have lost one of the most important tools.

The court case finished with the acquittal of the CPT (F/O never charged). Soon after the NZ Govt passed new laws protecting CVR recordings from criminal investigations. However the process would have been a horrendous ordeal for the CPT lasting several years.

As most investigators will tell you - the preoccupation of Police and media with blaming an individual is one of the biggest obstructions to open reporting of incident and accident data. From a legal perspective it goes back to the definition of "criminality" (Law of Torts etc). A genuine accident is by its nature NOT criminal as it lacks intention. Lobbying by Police has turned accident investigations into criminal investigation. (Great for them as one can now increase one's score of indictable convictions from otherwise good people having accidents). Arguably this has harmed the aims of air safety investigators greatly. Deliberately reckless action (ie flying while drunk) of course moves such action into the criminal intention arena. The Police angle is usually that any mistake is negligence and thus criminal - well show me an accident where somebody has not made a mistake? (Is the definition of the word in fact!).

I had a fair bit to do with the Police (on the right side luckily, SAR, family etc) and am of the opinion that whilst there are some good guys (& girls) out there, many are seldom motivated by finding the "truth" or "justice" or the "big picture" (ie saving lives in the future). They are usually looking for any reason, no matter how irrelavent or convoluted, to obtain the most serious conviction possible. It appears that its a game and hence why they are at odds with the goals of investigators. If you believe otherwise then IMHO you are niaive.

For your Essay you could maybe ask the question why the United Nations (ICAO), IFALPA, IASI (Investigators Assn) etc are all so strong on protecting CVR's? Perhaps they are more interested in saving 100's of lives in the future than the career aspirations of 1 Policeman today?



14th Jul 2005, 14:31
Love your maori handle. I bet the autocensor did not recognise that one.
Your sermon had great merit, and everyone should think long and hard about it.
I remember being an observer at an inquest, and getting some curious stares from some of the people involved. Soon they announced that the court would be cleared, as they were going to play VCR tapes. It did not happen, as apparently some one told them not to.
Playing the tape in a Coroners court would have been wrong, and as you say, is counterproductive.

Our regulator also could learn from this. There was a time when I would phone an "examiner of airmen", and ask for advice from this experienced knowledgeable pilot. They used to work with us, and we got to know, and trust them.
Now our FOI's are "evidence gatherers" and most are reluctant to talk to them. Sad. And counterproductive.
Another thing that seems to happen at inquests, is for the Coroner to ask for the ATSB report, and find that it is not available, for some reason. I get the impression that the Coroner and the ATSB are each waiting for the other's report, before they release their own.