15 Dec 2015

No licence but rescue pilot was 'only option left'

9:35 am on 15 December 2015

A stalwart of the rescue industry says the helicopter pilot who flew, while his licence was suspeded, to the rescue of a hunter should not have been charged with breaking civil aviation rules.

Dave Armstrong, left, with Scott Lee, the hunter he rescued, outside court today.

Dave Armstrong, left, with Scott Lee, the hunter he rescued, outside court today. Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

Dave Armstrong was convicted and fined nearly $6000 yesterday after coming to the aid of Scott Lee, who was not expected to make it through the night in dense bush near Kaikoura last April.

Former Aviation Industry Association president John Funnell - who has been in aviation for 49 years and has an MBE in recognition of his contribution to search and rescue - told Morning Report today that Mr Armstrong was "the only option left".

He said the official rescue helicopter had tried for two hours to get to Mr Lee, but failed because of adverse conditions and that as a local pilot, Mr Armstrong knew the area well and was able to find an alternative route.

"He did save this man's life, and it's disappointing that the court didn't see it that way, and it's disappointing that Civil Aviation chose to lay charges."

Mr Funnell conceded that Mr Armstrong had been a repeat offender and flown multiple times without a medical certificate, but the legislation was flawed after it was changed to add new restrictions in 1996.

Mr Lee had fallen down a bluff in dense bush near Kaikoura, breaking his femur, in the April incident.

Armstrong dropped off a rescue team after another pilot failed to do so. He pleaded guilty in the Kaikoura District Court in October and sought a discharge without conviction.

Judge Tony Couch told Christchurch District Court yesterday there were options Armstrong could have taken other than flying that day.

He declined the discharge without conviction and fined the pilot nearly $6000 for including for flying without a medical certificate and inaccurately recording flight details.

A visibly upset Armstrong said the process had taken a huge toll on him and the end result was disappointing.