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Death of pilot in Antarctica preventable, inquest hears

David Wood was a helicopter pilot in Antarctica Photo: davidwarburtonwood南京夜网
Nanjing Night Net

The man in charge at an Antarctic base when a helicopter pilot died of hypothermia after falling into a crevasse told an inquest on Wednesday he believed the incident was preventable.

Davis station leader William De Bruyn said Captains David Wood and Paul Sutton knew there was a crevasse on the fuel cache site two weeks before Mr Wood fell.

He said that they knew and did not report the crevasse to him or the station’s operations coordinator showed a “carelessness on their part that contributed to this incident.”

Had he known about a crevasse earlier, he would have taken a different course of action towards the cache site, including a consideration of whether to move it, Mr De Bruyn said.

Photographs of the site where David Wood fell into a crevasse from January 11, 2016. Photo: Supplied

“I’m sort of guessing, but I’ve got a feeling it was out of their mind,” he said. “I just think that the pilots forgot it was there.”

The court has heard evidence that when first chosen the surface of the fuel cache site on the western ice shelf was “blue ice”.

But when Mr Wood stepped out of his helicopter on January 11, 2016, the crevasse he fell into was concealed by snow.

Mr Wood and Mr Sutton had landed their helicopters on the site to refuel only two weeks before Mr Wood fell.

Mr Sutton said as they rolled a fuel drum across the ice it crossed a crevasse about a foot wide.

Mr De Bruyn, a former police officer who also investigated Mr Wood’s death under the direction of an ACT coroner, said it was only later that he found out the pilots knew of a crevasse, when Mr Sutton showed him a photo on his phone.

The image hit Mr De Bruyn like “a bolt of lightning”.

Fielding questions from a barrister for Helicopter Resources at the Canberra hearing on Wednesday, Mr De Bruyn said if pilots returned to a site that had been considered safe previously and there was snow on it he would still expect them to land there.

He said pilots landed on fresh snow daily.

He denied suggestions that a visual inspection of a site had limitations, even while conceding a manual said crevasses could be impossible to see and urged caution when relying on previously used sites.

Asked how pilots were ever going to be protected from crevasses at a snow covered area, Mr De Bruyn said: “I have no answer to that.”

Mr De Bruyn said changes made since Mr Wood’s death, where field specialists physically “proved” a site before it was used as a fuel cache, was a start to fixing the problem.

But he said even if a specialist cleared the site it was possible the surface had changed in the time before the next visit.

He said pilots needed better training in what they are looking at and what they are landing on.

In relation to the station’s response to an emergency, he said there was an urgent need for a critical incident recording system, as well as basic emergency management training for staff.

The inquest hearing is scheduled to resume to hear more evidence on December 20 and 21 and for a further three days in the New Year.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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