Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Australia: Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) At Fault in Not Revoking Private Pilot's License

What was intended to be the trip of a lifetime for Briton Ian Lovell, 35, and his Australian girlfriend, Samantha Hare, 32, in flown by pilot Barry Hempel, 60, quickly turned into tragedy for Mr. Lovell when Ms. Hare purchased a $492 "joy ride" on Hempel's Yak-52 Warbird, a two-place aircraft as a birthday present.

What was unknown to both Lovell and Hare is the fact that Hempel had his commercial pilot's license revoked in 2001, after a series of violations of various aviation rules, stemming from his medical history in suffering from epileptic seizures.

By intentionally concealing his medical history and the revocation of his commercial pilot's license, Barry Hempel committed fraud by charging Lovell and Hare a significant amount of money when he was not authorized to do so on August 31, 2008, when Hempel suffered an epileptic seizure at 10,000 feet, resulting in not only the pilot's death, but Mr. Lovell's death as well. 

COMMENT: An inquest at Queensland Coroner's Court on Friday (October 4) heard that Hempel had continued to fly his own private aircraft as Australian's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) despite the revocation of his commercial pilot's license.

Unfortunately, Hempel's history of having epileptic seizures was known to CASA, yet for some strange reason they did not equally revoke his private pilot's license as they should have, as possession of either license placed passengers at risk of death.

Thirteen minutes into the flight, Hempel suffered an epileptic fit in the cockpit and plunged the Yak-52 Warbird into the Pacific Ocean, killing both Hempel and Lovell. Tragically, Ms. Hare watched the drama from the shoreline.

Brisbane Coroner John Hutton slammed CASA and said it was "unbelievable" that Hempel was still allowed to retain his valid private pilot's license.

Hutton also said: "It is also unbelievable that when Dr. Ian Maxwell was briefed to assess Barry Hempel, a copy of Maxwell's report was never provided to him, nor was he advised as to his admissions of two previous seizures."

The court heard Hempel had not reported any problem to air traffic control as a frantic Ian Lovell could be shouting to the lifeless pilot in the last cockpit recording.

Medical evidence revealed that Hempel died from injuries caused by the impact itself, but had not braced himself before hitting the water, suggesting he was unconscious.
 
An autopsy found there was "gross evidence" that Hempel, a pilot of 40 years, had a prior injury and scarring that could produce seizures.

Ms. Hare, who is suing the two CASA physicians responsible for medically clearing Hempel, contends that Hempel never should have been cleared for private or commercial flight status.

Hutton recommended that CASA begin releasing the names of pilots whose licences are cancelled, revoked or changed, and set up a register to record pilots' license details.

The lesson to be learned from this tragedy is that passengers on both private and commercial flights insist in seeing and ideally photocopying the valid license of all pilots transporting them anywhere.

Additionally, all pilots, both commercial and private, should be thoroughly vetted to determine a history of their competency.