22 Jul 2014

Problems at aerodrome, inquest told

6:42 pm on 22 July 2014

An expert witness has told an inquest into a fatal mid-air collision nearly four years ago that systemic problems at Feilding Aerodrome contributed to the accident.

Flying instructor Jessica Rose Neeson, 27, and student pilot Patricia Small, 64, died when their plane collided with one piloted by student Manoj Kadam, who landed his damaged plane safely.

The independent expert witness, pilot Captain Gary Parata, told the hearing at the Palmerston North Coroner's Court on Tuesday the manoeuvre the women were practising - a standard rejoin - usually requires bigger clearance.

But at Feilding this was lowered because of the controlled airspace above 1500 feet for Ohakea air base. Mr Parata said a risk assessment would have picked up the danger.

Changes have now been made at Feilding so departing aircraft are limited to a certain altitude and there are dedicated entry and exit lanes so planes never get too close to each other.

Feilding farmer Andrew Scott also gave evidence, saying he was driving his truck to the city on the day of the crash when he noticed two small planes flying extremely close together.

They suddenly moved apart and he initially thought they must have collided but, as he did not see any smoke or debris, he assumed it was an aeronautics exercise, he said.

Mr Scott said he saw one plane wobble badly and was worried it was going to crash, but it went on to land.

He then noticed the other plane which seemed to be trying to level out, and said he thought it was leaving it a bit late. However, he did not realise there had been a crash until later in the day.

Another witness, Penny Robertson, said she was outside in her garden when she saw the plane with the damaged wing tumble three or four times before going into a nose-dive about 100 metres from the ground.

Ms Robertson, who lives near the Feilding Aerodrome, said she heard a loud engine noise and looked up to see two planes flying very low and close together and, within seconds, colliding.

She heard the bang while she was on the phone to emergency services and within seconds of making the call she heard the Feilding fire siren go off.

Coroner Tim Scott is hearing the inquest.