Doctor refused to fly to Yuendumu as NT teen lay dying, inquest told

The RFDS refused to fly to Yuendumu after Kumanjayi Walker was shot, his inquest has heard.

The RFDS refused to fly to Yuendumu after Kumanjayi Walker was shot, his inquest has heard. Photo: AAP

The Royal Flying Doctor Service refused to fly to an Indigenous community after a police officer shot and severely wounded a teenager, a Northern Territory inquest has been told.

Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died on the floor of the Yuendumu police station as the pilots allegedly bickered about the state of the runway in the remote community, north-west of Alice Springs.

An inquest into this death on November 9, 2019 has been told that immediately after the shooting Senior Sergeant Terry Zhang and other officers were ordered to fly with the RFDS to Yuendumu to back up police on the ground.

But when they arrived at the Alice Springs airport the pilots in charge of the RFDS plane refused to take off.

“I entered their hangar, the nurses were loading up the aircraft and I spoke to … the pilot,” Senior Sergeant Zhang told the coroner on Thursday.

“It was a robust conversation and he said they were not prepared to leave Alice Springs unless we can provide them with an assurance that the runway is safe to land.”

The pilots were concerned the Indigenous community in Yuendumu may have “sabotaged the runway”, making it unsafe to land.

“To give them some assurance … (we were) making phone calls back to the station (in the community) to see if someone could actually observe or see the runway physically,” Senior Sergeant Zhang said.

The pilots and police also discussed flying to another community near Yuendumu to wait “until it was safe”.

“While that was occurring … 20 minutes or half an hour, I got a phone call that Kumanjayi had passed away, so there was no need for the RFDS to attend,” Senior Sergeant Zhang said.

“I relayed that to the pilot.”

Senior Sergeant Zhang and the other officers then walked to the NT Police Air Wing hangar to travel on another plane but the pilot was not available because he was training.

He eventually showed up and refuelled the plane, and the team made a delayed departure for Yuendumu without the RFDS.

The same plane was used to evacuate the officer that shot Mr Walker, Constable Zachary Rolfe, from the community.

The inquest heard that a day after Mr Walker died, Constable Rolfe received a text message written by a veteran sergeant that the coroner heard may have suggested a criminal defence for shooting Mr Walker dead.

It advised Constable Rolfe to frame the incident as an offender coming at him with an edged weapon in an enclosed space, stating: “I was precluded from all other options available to me being distance, time, cover, Taser, baton, spray etc.”.

“So I had no other option but to protect myself and those with me by shooting the offender to gain immediate subject control and incapacitation,” the text said.

Constable Rolfe replied: “Awesome, awesome, awesome. Thank you for that brother”.

The inquest has previously heard Constable Rolfe held a “debrief” barbecue for colleagues at his home two days after Mr Walker died

Some of the other officers involved in the shooting attended the gathering in contravention of a police order that requires witnesses to an incident to be separated so they don’t taint each other’s recollection of events.

It is alleged the group discussed police use of force and their training when confronted by an offender armed with an edged weapon before concluding Constable Rolfe had followed his training and would be back on the job soon.

The conversation is among 54 issues related to Mr Walker’s death the coroner is exploring amid concerns it may have contaminated Constable Rolfe’s evidence at his trial.

He was charged with Mr Walker’s murder four days after the shooting and acquitted at trial in March using the defence suggested in the text message.

The inquest continues on Friday.


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