CASA ‘ready, willing’ to talks with Netflix star Chris Wilson’s widow, but money unlikely

The US aviation authority has agreed to talks with the lawyers of the widow of Outback Wrangler star Chris Wilson, but financial compensation remains unlikely.

Mr Wilson died in February 2022 when his helicopter crashed during a mission to collect crocodile eggs in remote West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau concluded in its final report that the crash, in which pilot Sebastian Robinson was seriously injured, was probably due to a lack of fuel.

Ms Wilson has since launched legal proceedings against the Civil Aviation Authority, as well as her co-star Matt Wright and his company Helibrook, over the crash.

In his appearance in federal court on Friday, CASA’s legal counsel Thomas Miller said the agency had agreed to mediation but was unlikely to make any monetary offers.

“We have indicated that we do not expect to be able to make monetary settlement offers, and that is partly due to the complexity of the issues in dispute,” he said.

“CASA is subject to a new type of due diligence obligation, requiring the company to take various measures (including) using statutory instruments in relation to monitoring activities.

“A helicopter crashed and the circumstances are unclear. The issue is the existence of the duty of care and the scope and content of this duty.”

Mr Miller told the court he would have expected expert evidence on “the essential aspects of liability and indebtedness” to be presented before a financial settlement.

But even when that happened, according to Miller, CASA was subject to limitations in its own policies and approvals regarding whether and when a settlement offer could be made.

“CASA is not authorised to enter into commercial settlements under Legal Services instructions… There must be a real, tangible risk of liability supported by evidence,” he said.

“In this case, consent must be obtained not only from CASA, but also from other authorities, including the Attorney General’s Office.

“Several people need to review the evidence as soon as it becomes available.

“We have communicated that we are ready, willing and able to try to narrow the issues in dispute and find a way forward, but we do not expect to make an offer.”

Judge Elizabeth Raper said there were “concerns on the part of the court” about CASA’s position and explained that mediation is common practice before all the evidence is presented.

She pointed out that CASA was ultimately “accountable to the Australian public” and that there was nothing preventing Mr Wright and Helibrook from resolving the matter separately.

Ms Wilson’s lawyer, Matthew Kalyk, also expressed his concerns, adding that he did not accept that they (CASA) were prohibited from making offers before evidence was presented.

Ultimately, all four parties to the lawsuit, including Mr Wright and Helibrook’s legal counsel Darryn Wright, agreed to “move on” and participate in mediation talks at a later date.

Chris “Willow” Wilson starred alongside Mr. Wright in National Geographic’s “Outback Wrangler” and Netflix’s “Wild Croc Territory,” both of which premiered in 2021-2022.

Ms. Wilson filed the lawsuit in Federal Court in December 2023, apparently seeking damages, interest, costs, interest on costs and other court orders.

The ATSB’s final report, released last year, found that Mr Wilson’s helicopter was unlikely to have refuelled at a depot between Darwin and the area where crocodile eggs were collected.

The report said Mr Robinson probably did not recognise the reducing fuel condition and Helibrook did not properly implement its safety management systems.

Mr Wright and Helibrook each face two counts of reckless conduct for failing to carry out their duties after Work Safe NT filed a complaint in February.

Work Safe NT claimed it had found “sufficient evidence of conduct intended to falsify the number of flight hours accumulated on the aircraft over an extended period of time”.

The alleged conduct included manipulation of the Hobbs Meter, which measures the useful life of an aircraft, and inaccurate recording of flight times in the maintenance release.

If found guilty and convicted, Helibrook faces a maximum fine of $6 million, while Mr Wright faces a maximum fine of $1.2 million, five years in prison, or both.

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