A jumper pilot flying at night without proper equipment or training caused a helicopter to crash into the ocean, killing five people, an investigation has heard.
Jamie Ogden, Grant Kuhnemann, Gregory Miller and his partner Jocelyn Villaneuva were on board when the ex-military ‘Huey’ helicopter lost radar contact near Newcastle around 6.30pm on September 6, 2019.
The wreckage of the Bell UH-1H helicopter was later pulled from the water 8 km from Fingal’s Bay, with passengers and pilot David Kerr believed to have been killed instantly.
In findings released Wednesday, coroner Carolyn Huntsman ruled pilot error and mishap caused the fatal crash.
Ms Villanueva (left) and her partner Gregory Miller (right), Jamie Ogden, Grant Kuhnemann and pilot David Kerr took off in a Bell UH-1H helicopter from Brisbane on Friday.
The plane disappeared from radar near Anna Bay in Port Stephens before it could reach its destination in Sydney. Jamie Ogden (pictured), who was on board, was a financial planner and father of two
Only two bodies – those of Mr Kuhnemann and Mr Miller – have been found, with the others previously listed as missing persons.
Mr Kerr was flying the plane from Archerfield Airport in Queensland to move it to Bankstown Airport in Sydney for new co-owners Mr Miller and Ms Villanueva who had paid a deposit of $200,000.
Mr. Ogden and Mr. Kuhnemann were there.
The coroner found the flight – originally scheduled to depart mid-morning – had been delayed for several hours and had taken off around 2.30pm, just three-and-a-half hours before dusk.
As the helicopter stopped to refuel at Coffs Harbour, the weather also became increasingly unfavorable – windy and smoky.
“Others recognized how windy the weather was and were ‘shocked’ that an aircraft was flying in these conditions,” Ms Huntsman wrote in her findings.
“A reasonable and prudent course of action would have been to suspend the flight and continue the next day.
David Kerr (pictured) was the pilot of the ‘Huey’ helicopter which was found in the ocean off the coast of New South Wales
“However, David Kerr may be experiencing ‘plan continuation bias’… so he made the decision to continue to Bankstown despite the changing and worsening conditions.”
The inquest heard the helicopter reportedly arrived in Bankstown late in the evening but was not equipped with the equipment to fly in the conditions and Mr Kerr was neither trained nor qualified to fly at night.
Less than 10 minutes after dark, he appeared to lose control of the aircraft and it disappeared from radar.
Seconds before the helicopter disappeared, a “short, loud and indistinct” transmission was received over the radio – what is suspected to have been a scream or a scream.
Following a dramatic emergency services search mission, Athena Rob said her sister Ms Villanueva and her partner Mr Miller were a loving couple (pictured, Grant Kuhnemann)
An investigation revealed that the helicopter was diving towards the ocean at a speed of 2,575 mA per minute.
No emergency call or beacon has been activated.
Ms Huntsman found the pilot had been trained to use visual cues, which were absent at night, and had become disoriented.
“The pilot put everyone at risk by flying using visual cues once the daylight had receded,” she said.
“In this case, the cause of the accident was clear, on all evidence, to be the pilot continuing after last light to fly a helicopter which was not equipped for night flying and where the pilot was not not trained for night flying.”
The inquest also raised questions about Mr Kerr’s non-disclosure of medical conditions and medication, but Ms Huntsman said there was no evidence that played a role in the accident.
She declined a suggestion that she formally recommend the implementation of reporting requirements for physicians treating commercial pilots with reportable medications or for conditions that could affect their ability to handle an aircraft.
Mr Kerr, Mr Ogden and Mr Kuhnemann were all former police officers, Mr Miller was in the military and Ms Villaneuva had worked for Qantas and the government.
Ms Villanueva’s sister, Athena Rob, tearfully shared her grief over the crash.
Huey, the Bell UH-1H helicopter (pictured) was found eight miles off Fingal Bay NSW
‘They were a beautiful couple. I’m proud of who they were and what they did,” she said.
Mr Ogden’s brother, Darren, described his brother as someone who loved life and had changed careers from senior police officer to financial planner.
He said his brother had been talking about the trip for weeks and was making moves to live entirely off the grid.
Mr. Ogden has two children, Ben and Steph.
The families of the four passengers were scathing about Mr Kerr during Tuesday’s inquest.
Gregory Miller’s mother said she was seeking legal advice on whether Mr Kerr had sufficiently fulfilled his pilot responsibilities.
The family of Mr Miller’s partner, Jocelyn Villanueva, also described Mr Kerr as reckless.
“Joc and Greg tragically trusted in the ability of a pilot… who did not put the safety of his passengers first,” they said in a statement read to the court.