18 Jul 2014

NZDF guilty over Anzac chopper crash

9:05 pm on 18 July 2014

The Defence Force has been ordered to pay further reparation of $20,000 to the sole survivor of the 2010 Anzac Day helicopter crash, and to the families of the three men who died.

Sergeant Stevin Creegan outside Wellington District Court.

Sergeant Stevin Creegan outside Wellington District Court. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

This is in addition to the $70,000 already awarded to them.

The Defence Force pleaded guilty on Friday to failing to provide a safe workplace in a private prosecution taken by the sole survivor, Stevin Creeggan.

He suffered serious head, chest, leg and spinal injuries when the Iroquois helicopter crashed at Pukerua Bay, north of Wellington on Anzac Day 2010. Three other airmen died.

He took a private prosecution against his commanders over the crash.

In an emotional victim impact statement, Sergeant Creeggan told the Wellington District Court of his horrific injuries and ongoing health problems, which meant he can't return to his old job.

As well as his physical struggles, he said he has battled survivor's guilt.

He says as a result of the crash, he has no faith in his employer to look after his safety.

His lawyer Tim MacKenzie said Sergeant Creeggan has no financial motivation in bringing the case, he just wanted someone to be held accountable for his suffering and for the deaths of his colleagues.

He said the Defence Force failed to ensure crew had sufficient training and experience, and allowed a lax culture, which may have led personnel to believe they could cut corners.

Defence Force lawyer, Nigel Luci-Smith, said it accepts it failed to prevent the tragedy.

He said Defence unreservedly apologises to the men and their families and the people of New Zealand for the short-comings that failed to prevent loss of life and the injuries to Sergeant Creeggan.

No price on a life lost

Judge Hastings said it is a terrible thing to have to quantify the cost and "no price could be put on a life lost", in fact it would be abhorrent to do so.

He said the Defence Force's culpability was high but commended it for true remorse and taking steps to put its house in order.

He told Sergeant Creeggan he is proof that one person can make a difference, and by dint of resolve has managed to make a silver lining out of a tragedy that has seared itself into the national psyche.

"The honour of the crown has gone some way to being restored."

As a state agency, Defence cannot be fined for the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of $250,000.

Totally disillusioned

Sergeant Creeggan's father says he feels totally disillusioned by the Defence Force's treatment of his family.

John Creeggann told the Wellington District Court his respect for the Defence Force was at an all time low.

"Since the avoidable crash I have struggled to understand how the blatant rule-breaking and defiance of orders especially around personnel safety considerations was allowed to continue with apparently no recriminations."

John Creeggan said he and his wife felt helpless to help their son.