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Army chopper crash inquiry quashes Defence bid to delay hearings

An attempt by the Australian Defence Force to delay an inquiry into a fatal army helicopter crash has been quashed.

Jun 18, 2024, updated Jun 18, 2024
Australian Army soldier Corporal Alex Naggs (top left), Australian Army officer Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent (top right), Australian Army soldier Warrant Officer Class 2 Joseph Laycock (bottom left) and Australian Army officer Captain Danniel Lyon (bottom right), who are missing after their Taipan MRH-90 helicopter crashed near Queensland's Hamilton Island on Friday morning as a part of Exercise Talisman Sabre. T(AAP Image/Supplied by the Department of Defence)

Australian Army soldier Corporal Alex Naggs (top left), Australian Army officer Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent (top right), Australian Army soldier Warrant Officer Class 2 Joseph Laycock (bottom left) and Australian Army officer Captain Danniel Lyon (bottom right), who are missing after their Taipan MRH-90 helicopter crashed near Queensland's Hamilton Island on Friday morning as a part of Exercise Talisman Sabre. T(AAP Image/Supplied by the Department of Defence)

Captain Danniel Lyon, Lieutenant Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class Two Joseph Laycock and Corporal Alexander Naggs were killed when their MRH-90 Taipan plunged into the sea off the Queensland coast on July 28, 2023 during a military training exercise.

The ADF applied on Tuesday for the inquiry into the crash to wait until a Defence Flight Safety Bureau (DFSB) report was handed down for consideration of its expert analysis.

It also sought to remove two ADF witnesses from giving testimony during the inquiry’s hearings in Brisbane this week.

ADF’s counsel Andrew Berger KC suggested continuing without the report would raise questions over the validity of the inquiry’s findings.

“We respectfully suggest a significant question mark would hang over the conclusions reached by this inquiry, their utility to the ADF, and the extent to which closure would properly be provided to those who lost loved ones,” he told the inquiry.

“It would be akin to conducting an inquest in relation to a fatal fire without the benefit of the forensic expert fire examination report.”

Berger said without the report, the inquiry may unnecessarily question or have to recall witnesses which could be further traumatising.

The ADF was also concerned a specific member’s involvement may be “wrongly” suggested as at fault by the end of the inquiry, Berger said.

The application was being brought due to the public nature of the inquiry, Berger said.

Colonel Jens Streit, counsel assisting Justice Margaret McMurdo, submitted the Commonwealth’s application was a delay tactic and the inquiry was simply trying to find out about the tragic crash.

“The purpose of the inquiry is not singularly to place blame on any individuals or organisations,” he said.

“The inquiry is attempting to determine the cause of the accident with a view to avoiding or mitigating the risk to ADF personnel in the future as a matter of public policy.”

Family members of the crash victims made submissions opposing the Commonwealth application.

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“Despite being six months into the inquiry, the secrecy that still surrounds the cause of the accident is of considerable impact to me and only creates distrust about the ADF and a serious concern that the inquiry is not focused on that primary fact,” Cpt Lyon’s wife Caitland said in a statement.

“All I want to know now is what happened to Danniel.”

McMurdo said pausing the inquiry for the DFSB report – due to be released in December after multiple delays – would be costly to crash victims’ loved ones.

“I accept that it is highly desirable for the inquiry to obtain the final relevant DFSB report as early as possible,” she said, responding to the application.

“But where that report is delayed, I consider it would be remiss of this inquiry not to continue the investigations it’s lawfully charged to conduct in a timely way.”

She also said the inquiry would be “beholden” to the Commonwealth as to what witnesses are called and what questions could be asked if the application was accepted.

“(This) would gravely compromise the independence of this inquiry,” McMurdo said.

In order to maintain public confidence in the inquiry and the ADF, it should continue, McMurdo said.

McMurdo rejected the application and asked for the report be handed down as soon as possible, confirming the inquiry would go ahead regardless.

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