Helicopter company and director charged over unsafe aircraft operation

NT WorkSafe recently charged commercial helicopter company Helibrook and its company director over failures to maintain safe aircraft and allowing the aircraft to be operated when unsafe.

In February 2022, a Robinson R44 helicopter used for collecting crocodile eggs, crashed in the West Arnhem region. 

A worker, who had been suspended via a sling from the aircraft, was killed and the pilot seriously injured. 

NT WorkSafe and other regulatory agencies commenced separate investigations into the incident.

While the exact cause of the helicopter crash has not been determined by any regulatory agency, and there is insufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case to lay charges in relation to the crash at this point in time, NT WorkSafe’s investigation has found sufficient evidence to allege Helibrook and company director, Matthew Wright, engaged in conduct intended to falsify the actual number of flight hours accrued by the aircraft in the Helibrook fleet over an extended period of time.

This included:

  •  Interfering with the Hobbs Meters, which records the time an aircraft is in use
  • Not accurately recording flight times in the aircraft’s Maintenance Release, a key document to the safe operation of an aircraft.

NT WorkSafe alleges this conduct would have impacted the regular inspection and replacement of the aircraft life-limited components that may have been critical to the airworthiness of the aircraft, therefore placing at risk the health and safety of the pilots and passengers each time aircraft from the Helibrook fleet was used.

Helibrook Pty Ltd has been charged with two counts of reckless conduct under Section 31 of the Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (‘the Act’) for failing its duties under Sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Act.

Matthew Wright has also been charged with two counts of reckless conduct under Section 31 of the Act for failing his duties as an officer under Section 27(1) of the Act.

If found guilty of all charges, Helibrook faces a maximum combined penalty of $6 million, while Wright faces a maximum combined penalty of $1.2 million or five years imprisonment or both.

Charges under Section 32 and Section 33 of the Act for failing to comply with health and safety duties have also been laid against both defendants as alternatives to the reckless conduct charges.