Charges dropped for fatal NT chopper crash

NT WorkSafe has withdrawn charges against cattle company directors over a fatal helicopter crash.

NT WorkSafe has withdrawn charges against cattle company directors over a fatal helicopter crash. Photo: AAP

Charges have been dropped against the directors of a major livestock producer after the death of an intoxicated muster pilot in a Northern Territory helicopter crash.

One of the men, Mick Hewitt, instead agreed to an enforceable undertaking to spend $55,000 to improve safety systems at his company, Queensland-based Hewitt Cattle Australia, and deliver industry safety initiatives.

NT WorkSafe said on Friday it had withdrawn charges of breaking health and safety laws against Mr Hewitt and brother Ben Hewitt in Alice Springs Local Court following the undertaking.

Both men had faced maximum penalties of $400,000 for the charges, which related to their alleged failure to properly perform their duties and take reasonable steps to protect workers.

A 47-year-old helicopter pilot died in the November 2018 crash at Ambalindum Station, about 125 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs, while a 24-year-old passenger who worked as the station’s head stockman was seriously injured.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation found the pilot’s judgment was probably impaired at the time of the accident after high levels of alcohol were found in his blood.

The pilot also failed to check the weather forecast which was predicting turbulence before taking off in the overloaded Robinson R22 helicopter.

Investigators found the aircraft would have been difficult to control and was likely hit by a strong downdraft while flying low to the ground near the MacDonnell Ranges.

NT WorkSafe executive director Peggy Cheong said the directors’ undertaking was appropriate given the cattle company had spent more than $1 million to improve safety at their properties.

As part of the agreement, Hewitt Cattle Australia will need to fund a feasibility study into setting up a dedicated emergency aircraft or organisation in Alice Springs to service remote areas.

Hewitt Cattle operates sheep and cattle properties in Queensland, NSW and the NT, including the 331,800-hectare Ambalindum cattle station.

Mick Hewitt serves as the company’s chief executive, while Ben Hewitt is listed as the livestock producer’s chief operations officer.

The company previously said its directors took their safety obligations very seriously and were committed to providing a safe workplace for staff and contractors.

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