23 Jul 2014

Mother surprised to learn of near-miss

9:53 pm on 23 July 2014

The mother of a flying instructor killed in a mid-air collision near Feilding says she was surprised to learn of a near-miss in the area only days before her daughter's fatal crash.

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.

Coroner Tim Scott is hearing an inquest in the Palmerston North Coroner's Court into the 2010 collision at Feilding Aerodrome.

The court was on Tuesday told of a near-miss only four days before the fatal crash, and Ms Neeson's mother, Lyn Neeson, spoke outside the court of her surprise.

"I was surprised that there was a suggestion that there was a near miss only four days before Jess's accident, and if that had of been reported then we might not be standing here today," she said.

Mid-air collisions were currently a one-in-five-year occurrence but Lyn Neeson said she had confidence the coroner would make recommendations which would ensure they occurred far less frequently.

Mr Scott questioned Flight Training Manawatu chief executive Michael Bryant about the earlier near-miss reported to police by two witnesses after the fatal crash.

"We have researched that incident, back to the pilots flying at that time and they have no record, nor do we have any record of any such incident," Mr Bryant said.

The witnesses on the ground could have been mistaken, and he could only act on incidents which were reported to him, he said.

Under-reporting in commercial sector

But independent expert witness Captain Gary Parata, a pilot, training instructor and air accident investigator, said witness statements about the near-miss, of which there was no official record, reflected his own experience of under-reporting in the non-commercial sector.

"People run shy of reporting because they think that bad things will happen to them, rather than the truth, which is safety systems get improved with proper reporting," he said.

Aviation commentator Irene King told Radio New Zealand on Wednesday near misses for commercial flights were reported by air traffic control but that was not the case for training schools using uncontrolled airspace.

"With these smaller aircraft, a lot of it is see and be seen. So if you simply just don't see the other person, which is generally the cause of these accidents, you don't know, so what you don't know you don't report," she said.

The culture around reporting near misses was changing as people increasing felt they could report incidents to the Civil Aviation Authority without fear of prosecution, Ms King said.

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission inquiry into the fatal crash found while both pilots had made radio calls announcing their locations and intended flight paths, neither appeared to realise they were on a collision course.

Mr Kadam, who gave evidence to the coroner in 2011 before returning to India, said he did not see the other plane until he heard a mayday call and saw debris falling.

Mr Scott reserved his findings.