No safety assessment done before pilot fell into crevasse in Antarctica, inquest told

Updated September 20, 2017 16:56:11

No formal safety assessment had been conducted in the area where an Antarctic pilot fell into a crevasse and became trapped for hours in light clothing, an inquest into his death has heard.

The Canberra-based inquiry is looking into the death of pilot David Wood, who succumbed to hypothermia after being rescued from a hidden crevasse on the Western Ice Shelf.

Captain Wood and another pilot were on a routine flight to drop fuel at a cache in the area.

He fell into the crevasse after he stepped out of his aircraft, and was left alone at the scene while another pilot flew to Davis Station for help.

He was not retrieved from the crevasse for four hours.

A police officer who investigated the incident told the inquest she found a number of failings including that there had been no formal inspections of the area before the accident on January 11, 2016.

Australian Federal Police officer Rebecca Wenham also found both pilots were aware of crevasses in the area, but took no action.

Helicopter contractor Bill English, who employed Captain Wood, told the court that to do proper reconnaissance of the site, the helicopter should have done a right turn, given the sun was to its left.

“You need to see the texture of the surface,” he said.

But he agreed that in footage shown to the court Captain Wood turned left.

Counsel assisting the coroner James Stewart asked if that showed “a lack of carefulness”.

My English replied: “I would not go that far.”

Wood ‘not rugged up’ at time of fall

Mr Stewart also asked if Captain Wood had demonstrated an overconfidence in landing at the site.

Mr English said the pilot’s actions could have indicated he was going back to a spot where he had landed before.

The court also viewed images of Captain Wood’s clothing, which included a polar fleece, T-shirt, socks and boots.

Constable Wenham also raised this issue in her report saying he was only wearing light clothing.

Mr English said the pilots were not often out of the helicopter, which could be quite warm inside.

“They are not generally rugged up in survival gear when they are flying,” he said.

He later agreed there was an image of the interior of the helicopter that day showing a down jacket over the back of a seat.

The inquest is yet to hear from the other pilot or those who took part in the rescue.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, antarctica, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted September 20, 2017 16:43:03