6 Jul 2020

Warbirds over Wanaka crash caused by 'systemic failures' - lawyer

6:45 pm on 6 July 2020

Recordings of the moment a vintage plane crashed at Warbirds over Wanaka have been played in court as the pilot tries to recover costs.

A yak3 at the Warbirds Over Wanaka show.

A yak3 at the Warbirds Over Wanaka show. Photo: Twitter / Paul Stewart

Arthur Dovey escaped unharmed, but a wing on his World War II Yak-3 aircraft was destroyed, after hitting two cherry pickers when landing on grass in 2018.

At the High Court in Wellington today, footage of spectators watching the crash was played.

The commentators first explained that Dovey was making a smooth landing but seconds later gasps from the crowd could be heard, along with a series of bangs, as the vintage plane crashed into the cherry pickers.

One spectator then said "what the hell".

Dovey's lawyer Chris Chapman said in his opening submission today the pilot was not at fault.

"This is an accident caused by systemic failures - and not by pilot error," he said.

He then quoted a Civil Aviation Authority report on the case.

"A text book example of an organisational accident," he said.

Chapman talked about a series of communication mishaps, including that Dovey had radio communicated that he was planning to land on the grass.

He told the court this afternoon that some people had thought the cherry pickers had been removed, while others knew they were still in place.

A start-of-day briefing had talked about conditions on the grass and it was mentioned that planes could land on one part, Chapman said.

Chapman said there was serious negligence and the people behind the scenes were to blame, not Arthur Dovey.

"The problem with this is that an air traffic service, if objectively that is what it is, being delivered by untrained, unregulated, unaudited but well-meaning amateurs - this accident is a result of that," he said.

The repair bill for the destroyed wing was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and Dovey wanted to recover those costs from show organisers.

Arthur Dovey's Yak-3 was one of two involved in the opening display, and replaced an F-16 aircraft because of wet weather.

Dovey took the stand late this afternoon, and was going through his long aviation career and experience with aircraft.

He told the court the grass was available for landing.

"Common practice for war or tail wheeled aircraft at those air shows - and at Warbirds over Wanaka 2018 - was for them to take off on seal and land on the grass," he said.

He said the grass was much better for aircraft, such as his Yak-3, because he was taught that in his training, as well as less wear-and-tear on the tyres.

He said he had landed at Wanaka roughly 950 times - 500 in the seal, 450 on the grass.

He is expected to continue tomorrow.

The case is set down for 10 days.