View Full Version : Cockpit voice recording to be used as evidence in pilot's manslaughter trail in NZ

5th Apr 2001, 09:53
Court clears evidence in fatal Ansett crash
05 April 2001

The cockpit voice recorder from the Ansett Dash-8 aircraft which crashed in the Tararua Ranges five years ago can be used as evidence in the pilot's manslaughter trial.

The Court of Appeal yesterday allowed an appeal by the Crown against a ruling that the recorder was inadmissable. The reasons would be given later, Justice Keith said.

Former Ansett Dash-8 pilot faces four charges of manslaughter and three of unlawfully injuring passengers, stemming from the crash on June 9, 1995. His trial is due to start in the High Court at Palmerston North on April 23.

On Tuesday a five-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias heard an appeal by the Crown that the cockpit voice recorder be allowed as evidence at the trial.

Lawyer for the Crown John Pike said, after the accident legislation was passed in Parliament which prohibited cockpit voice recorders from being used in court proceedings against airline crew members.

However, the Crown contended this wasn't retrospective and didn't apply to Sotheran's case.

"This tragedy occurred before the Act came into force and nothing in the Act at all applies to it," Mr Pike said.

For Sotheran, Hugh Rennie QC said when the Bill was debated there were references to the Dash-8 accident. "It is plain the House was fully aware the amendment would apply to this case."

Transport Accident Investigation Commission lawyer Francis Cooke said it would be unusual for Parliament to exclude the Dash-8 case which had caused the legislation.

The Evening Post.

[This message has been edited by Oleo (edited 05 April 2001).]

Myk Hunt
5th Apr 2001, 13:49
Next they will put cameras on board all the aircraft and say that it canīt be used against us pilots. Like they said about the CVR. Go figure

5th Apr 2001, 17:10
depends on what you have to hide !
if you follow procedure and don't cut corners then whats the problem?

5th Apr 2001, 17:23
Yeah boeingBOY1, why worry? I bet you never done a mistake in the cockpit..

5th Apr 2001, 17:31
This is a great pity.

I would have thought that a civilised and sensible country like N.Z. ( my birth place before anyone starts slagging me off) would realise that this use of the CVR will set back the cause of aviation safety. (Although I am glad that the new act has come into force.)

Soon it will be standard practice to erase the CVR on shutting down especially if there has been an incident or accident, and where will that get us! certainly not any closer to learning and hence avoiding our genuine mistakes.

To Err is Human!

5th Apr 2001, 18:46
no, i can and do make mistakes just like anybody else. difference is that if i make a mistake, i accept it and take the slap on the wrist as a lesson learned. if i, or any pilot makes a major mistake, (and lives through it) then we deserve a fair hearing with evidence being submitted from prosecution and deffence, as in any court.
lets face it, the NZ case and others have proved that cvr's can work for both sides.

6th Apr 2001, 06:00
Very virtuous!
Its a lot easier to do your George Washington act as a F/O

Argus Tuft
6th Apr 2001, 09:52
BB. In today's litigious society, it doesn't take much for a smart lawyer to turn an honest mistake into a culpable act.

Juries aren't experts, neither are judges.

Do you really want a panel of non-aviation types listening to your CVR, not having a clue what it all means, and having to decide if what they are listening to constitutes a criminal act, or an act with civil liability?

Witness the Egyptair disaster. Full CVR and Flight recorder readouts available, and they are still arguing over what happened.

CVR's were introduced solely as an accident prevention measure. They should be kept as such.

6th Apr 2001, 15:00
fair point !!

6th Apr 2001, 23:41
With the advent of the original CVR,guys were hyper' at erasure at the end of the successful flight! Then pilots being the lazy guys they are didn't bother,after all the info' was only to be used in the event of a major(fatal) accident..Then the case of accidents occuring in europe coming under the 'ruling' of judges clouded the issue of 'privileged' information(which, until this,CVR's time had only be Heard by the accident people and crew).Some judges released information to all and sundry,they were above ICOA!!!Next we had the cases in 'Industrialized nations where the Coroner tried to 'Investigate 'the accident through the Witness box,again the issue of 'privelege' arose.. Finally the 'leaks' of the NTSB's cases, and the Latest "stipulation" by the Investigators of the UK/Canada that the CVR can be used in investigating 'Incidents',have done very little to appease the original pilots concern re outside interference.(Police action,or US Lititagtion)

7th Apr 2001, 00:50
Boeing boy

Wish I was as good as you!! Given a fair hearing by people who do NOT jump to conclusions ( as you have ) it will be revealed that this crew do not have much to hide at all. Assuming this is so (A seperate issue) how do you think the use of the CVR in this case will further the cause of aviation safety? CVR use for prosecutions is contrary to international guidelines and a very dangerous precedent for Pilots.
In a previous case in NZ a Pilot was prosecuted and pleaded guilty because the procesution only had to prove that he could have prevented the accident with the benefit of hindsight. In NZ law there appears to be no requirement to prove negligence, a wreck and a body is enough for any Pilot related accident. A CVR tape if legal is bound to be mis-interpreted and used against a Pilot by Lawers whatever they said.
As for turning a CVR off after an incident this may not be possible if an impact of more than 2 Gs has occured.

7th Apr 2001, 04:07
When the NZ cops first tried to get their sticky fingers on the CVR data there was a spate of mysterious failures in cvr systems (the breakers seemed to pop quite often, rendering the system inop). When the new law was passed it seems the system reliability improved immeasurably.
Are we now at risk, again, of that (quite common) feature of NZ life - the overzealous cop stitchup?
It may be that the MBTF of cvr systems is set to decrease again.

7th Apr 2001, 14:00
I can understand people's reluctance to allow CVR's to be used in criminal prosecutions.

We are all human and human beings make mistakes, and it makes sense to use CVR's to find out how those mistakes happened to put in place systems that will prevent them reoccurring.

However, mistakes are one thing, criminal or gross negligence another. If your husband/wife/kids had been killed on a flight in which culpable negligence was suspected, would you want significant evidence of that negligence to be hidden from a prosecution and, as a result, the (possibly) guilty parties to go free, possibly to commit the same offence again with someone else's nearest and dearest? You have to see the other side as well.

I don't think that unlimited access to CVR recordings or transcripts should be available, though. There's enough already that the press love to make uninformed speculation with.

Perhaps the equivalent of a coroner's court should decide whether there is enough evidence on the basis of their enquiries to decide whether a criminal prosecution should follow, and whether any particular portion of a CVR recording should be used in that prosecution? I am not in favour of either the police or the regulatory authorities being permitted to decide such...

7th Apr 2001, 16:32

I agree entirely. The essence of my previous post was supposed to be that the accidents were just that and that the CVR has no place in inappropriate prosecutions. The new NZ legislation does make it available should obvious gross negligence be involved eg Pilot drunk or whatever. However the NZ Supreme court has not applied the new act to this case so subverting the intent of Parliament in my opinion. Then a new issue arises as to where to draw the line on the negligence thing.

Jurassic Jet Man
7th Apr 2001, 21:55

"the CVR has no place in inappropriate prosecutions"

Enlighten me as to what an appropriate prosecution is, with regard to the introduction of CVR as evidence?


8th Apr 2001, 15:08
It's really quite simple. The Police have an obligation to assemble and submit to the courts ALL relevant information pertaining to a case. They are not being overzealous, just doing their job. Sometimes they have to put up a fight to see how much evidence they can get. It's then up to the courts to decide whether or not it can be admitted, and ultimately (with the assistance of a jury) whether or not liability should rest with the defendant. If they fail to pursue this task, then they are negligent in the performance of their duty, and the victims and their families have cause for complaint.

As a professional pilot, I have a great deal of sympathy for the crew in question, and for the safety argument behind the change to the law. In fact in a previous life as a police lawyer I was consulted and involved in the legal process that brought about that change. However, as a former street copper who on the day of the crash had to inform next of kin face to face, I have more interest than most in determing the truth about what really happened that fateful morning. The deceased and their families deserve that.

Whilst this is an issue about the collection of evidence rather than the limits of liability for negligence, I am constantly surprised at the number of pilots who think that they should be exempt from normal standards of legal responsibility because supposedly aviation is in some way different from other occupations. That is not the case. Flying an aircraft is not an 'exact science' and there is always the risk of unwanted intervention by factors such as weather / bad ATC / other traffic, but this does not reduce the standard of care required of us as professionals. If we stuff up, the law will examine our conduct and we may be held criminally responsible if our actions fall short of its expectations.

It's no secret to say that there was a hint of negligence in this case. Whether or not there was 'sufficient' negligence to result in culpability is yet to be determined. People in other professions as varied as doctors or bus drivers are subject to scrutiny and responsibility for their actions when something goes wrong, even if it was a momentary lapse of concentration or the smallest degree of negligence. If this is the standard that society demands, why should pilots be exempt? Or should we be held to a lower standard of care at work, at least until we leap into our cars to go home and the duty of care of the 'prudent driver' kicks in, ironically when the potential for disaster is much lower?

In any event, I hope that this matter is resolved quickly for the sake of all involved. The only truly inexcusable element of this case is the delay and uncertainty that the pilots, their families, and the relatives of the victims have been subject to. That is an extremely unfortunate consequence of our legal system.

I wish everyone involved, the best of luck!

8th Apr 2001, 17:34
Having attended a Coroners court and seen at first hand the crazy conclusions drawn by the coroner purely based upon his complete lack of knowledge of flying operations, then what a cunning lawyer could do with a CVR read-out in court is frightening.

The coroner in this particular case, stated that because the accident aircraft was old in years, then many defects must be accepted as normal. (Tell that to the Feds!) He made an analogy about old cars being rarely devoid of defects of some kind or other.

Also (he said) because the pilot had not logged the alleged defects in the maintenance release (which was devoid of entries at the time of the fatal accident)-then the defects (actually written on a piece of scrap paper and kept at home by the pilot), could not have been important, as the pilot would have surely reported them in the MR, because that is the Regs. It was evident that the pilot was reluctant to write up defects because of his perceived fear of risking job security.

And finally the word of the LAME who, tongue in cheek, swore that he was unaware of any snags because none were in the MR - was taken as gospel by the coroner over the word of another witness who had recently flown in the RH seat of the aircraft the day before the crash - but who was not in the coroners words - an "aviation person". The coroner said that as the LAME was an "expert" witness, his evidence was what counted. Sitting at the back of the court room, I was gobsmacked at the lies and duck-shoving that took place.

No point in going to more details here, sufficient to warn that listening to a CVR tape in a coroners court is courting amateur interpretation, with all that implies.

[This message has been edited by Centaurus (edited 08 April 2001).]

[This message has been edited by Centaurus (edited 08 April 2001).]

8th Apr 2001, 23:37
BoeingBoy1 -

At least in the USA, the NTSB & FAA have distorted enough such 'data' that being in the wrong is not required for a bureaucratic butchering. Ask such as 'Hoot' Gibson.

The recorders only give them a 'plausible assertion' basis for distorting reality. When that doesn't work, the recorders mysteriously lose power.

If you are not among the professional disinformationists, who have a way of finding such sites as this, then I suggest a trip to your doctor for some growth hormones & grow up to the reality that pilots on this forum have to deal with, instead of that self-righteous rubbish you purport.

10th Apr 2001, 20:17
hey skydrifter,

you obviously have something to hide. sloppy cockpit procedures maybe, severe "bending" of the rules, or is it just that you are such a liability on the flightdeck, that you would be grounded at best.
(ps i bet you are from usa)

[This message has been edited by Sick Squid (edited 10 April 2001).]

11th Apr 2001, 08:34
I think bboy the obvious point is this. The reason why most of us are so up in arms about this case, is the Police and The Crown Prosecutor are not in the least bit interested in furthering the cause of aviation safety, or for that matter learning from this tragedy. Their interest begins and ends with securing a conviction and it seems theyíll stop at nothing to get it.

Centaurus has hit the nail on the head. Interpreting a CVR requires not only an intimate knowledge of operational aspects such as SOPís and so forth, but also an understanding of the aircraft concerned. Even then itís just that, an interpretation. Will the representatives of the Crown be interested in interpreting the CVR in the interests of aviation safety, or for the purpose of winning the case? And which of those are in the best interests of the public? After all thatís who they claim to be serving isnít it?

The question I put to the Crown is, has the public interest been best served by the committal of Police resources to this case? And what has it all cost the tax payer I wonder? Iím sure bboy on your salary you wouldnít like to foot the bill.