14 Dec 2015

Pilot who flew to rescue fined $6000

7:48 pm on 14 December 2015

A helicopter pilot who helped rescue two hunters has been convicted and fined nearly $6000 for flying while his licence was suspended.

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

Dave Armstrong, left, with Scott Lee, the hunter he rescued (file). Photo: RNZ / Sally Murphy

Dave Armstrong stepped in when bad weather prevented a Westpac Rescue Helicopter from locating Scott Lee and his hunting partner in April last year. Mr Lee had fallen down a bluff in dense bush near Kaikoura, breaking his femur.

Armstrong dropped off a rescue team after another pilot failed to do so. He was later charged by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) because his licence was suspended at the time due to a medical condition.

He pleaded guilty in the Kaikoura District Court in October and sought a discharge without conviction.

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

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

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

"It's just a chain of events that happened, that I ended up doing what I did," he said.

"Basically, it was all done on the side of safety, whether the CAA realise it or not. But on the day, safety was paramount, and we all got home safe. That's all that matters."

An online petition set up by lawyer Jeremy Bioletti to call for the charges to be dropped had by October gathered more than 4000 signatures.

CAA director of civil aviation Graeme Harris said it would have exercised more discretion if Armstrong had informed police before the flight.

He said the pilot flew multiple times without a medical certificate and displayed a pattern of unlawful behaviour.

"We would have exercised discretion, as we're required to exercise discretion in the application of the law.

"Frankly, it's difficult to talk about hypothetical situations because he didn't actually tell us about it and instead went on to have one of his staff falsify records to try and cover up the events."

A Givealittle page set up by Mr Lee in October to help Armstrong pay his legal fees has now raised over $7900, with a spate of donations in the last few hours.