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DH8A, Ansett, Palmerston North NZ, 1995(Legal Process - Flight Crew)

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Article Information
Category: Human Error
in Aviation
and Legal Process
Human Error in Aviation and Legal Process
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The Event

Flight 703 accident in New Zealand in 1995

Date:

9 June 1995 at 9:22 am local time.

Location

Palmerston North Airport, New Zealand

Summary

Flight 703, an Ansett DHC-8 scheduled to fly from Auckland Airport to Palmerston North, crashed west of the Taratua Ranges and 16 km east of Palmerston North airport, during an instrument approach in bad weather. During the approach to a right turn which would place the aircraft on final approach to runway 25, the right landing gear failed to fully extend and the co-pilot began to manually extend it using a hydraulic pump. The aircraft's power settings had already been reduced to Flight Idle which was normal, but the aircraft was inadvertently allowed to descend too low toward the undulating terrain leading into Palmerston North. Although Ansett New Zealand Flight 703's Ground Proximity Warning System sounded an alarm four seconds before the aircraft hit the ground, the crew was unable to avoid the accident. According to the Transport Accident Investigation Commission report an audio alarm of "Terrain! Terrain! Pull up!" should have sounded 17 seconds before impact, but the GPWS malfunctioned, for reasons which have never been determined.

There were 3 crew members and 18 passengers on board the aircraft. All passengers, except for one United States citizen, were New Zealand citizens.

One crew member and 3 passengers lost their lives and the other two crew members and 12 passengers were seriously injured. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.


The Non Judicial Investigations

Carried out by:

Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand Investigation 95-011, "de Havilland DHC-8 ZK-NEY, controlled flight into terrain, near Palmerston North, 9 June 1995", Final Report

The Findings:

The causal factors were:

  • The captain not ensuring the aircraft intercepted and maintained the approach profile during the conduct of the non-precision instrument approach.
  • The captain's perseverance with his decision to get the undercarriage lowered without discontinuing the instrument approach.
  • The captain's distraction from the primary task of flying the aircraft safely during the first officer's endeavors to correct an undercarriage malfunction
  • The first officer not executing a Quick Reference Handbook procedure in the correct sequence
  • The shortness of the ground proximity warning system warning.


The Criminal Prosecution

Persons Prosecuted: The Captain

The Court: Courts of New Zealand

The system: Judge

The Charge(s):

  • The Captain was charged with 4 counts of manslaughter.
  • The Captain was charged with three counts of unlawfully injuring passengers.

The Plea(s): Not guilty

Prosecutors Sentencing Request: Imprisonment

Significant aspects of the trial:

  • 6 weeks trial
  • CVR used against the pilot.
  • As part of the criminal enquiry, the police requested that the Accident Investigation Commission provide them with actual CVR tape, not just a transcript of the recording, but the Commission refused to do so. The matter went to the High Court and the court ruled that the CVR was inadmissible in court. The matter went to the Court of Appeal and the 5 judge bench overturned this ruling and held that the police did have the right to obtain the actual CVR. The police executed the search warrant and took possession of the CVR tape.

In September 1999 legislation was passed prohibiting the use of flight recorders in criminal or civil proceedings against pilots (Flight Safety Foundation, 2000)

The Judgement: The captain was later acquitted of all charges.

The Sentence(s):

  • Exemplary damages for compensation
  • The claims of the families of those who were killed, against Ansett for compensatory damages were dismissed by the court as statutorily barred by New Zealand's accident compensation scheme, but their claims against Ansett for exemplary damages were allowed to go forward, as these claims were not barred by the Act.

Related Facts

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 allegedly reported that they did not feel safe with this approach and refused to use it.

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