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Bruce Rhoades and the ABC 730 report

This is compiled from from recent press clippings and reports.

Bruce Rhoades says: “…………………….I just can not allow this culture of CASA to go on, without speaking up very, very loudly against it………………”

https://www.facebook.com/ABC730/videos/plane-crash-vision/739093299770738/


Sydney Morning Herald

Safety investigators face evidence allegations over crash probe

The owner of an aviation company involved in a plane crash that killed one passenger and injured another three has released evidence that raises doubts about the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) investigation into the crash.

Bruce Rhoades claims CASA relied on questionable information when it cancelled the licence of his company, Wyndham Aviation, his own pilot’s licence and that of his pilot Les Woodall, who was flying the plane that crashed, days after the 2017 accident.

A 29-year-old British backpacker died and two of the three other passengers, including pilot Les Woodall, were seriously injured when this Cessna 172 crashed near Middle Island.
A 29-year-old British backpacker died and two of the three other passengers, including pilot Les Woodall, were seriously injured when this Cessna 172 crashed near Middle Island.

Mr Rhoades, who has terminal cancer, spoke to a joint Fairfax and ABC 7.30 investigation to share his story in an attempt to try to clear his name – and Mr Woodall’s – before he dies.

He says CASA’s claims the company was a “serious and imminent risk to air safety” and that he and Mr Woodall did an “aerobatic manouevre” were untrue. He hotly disputes its assessment that the pilot should have behaved differently and accuses CASA of shoddy investigative processes that saw it rely on fuel samples collected from the plane in a used Coke bottle days after the crash.

“I am very bitter about this,” Mr Rhoades said.

“I feel that both Les and I have been grossly abused by CASA, therefore I am exposing myself to the court of public opinion which I believe to be the only one I can afford…”

Exclusive video provided to the media investigation captures the flight’s final moments before and after the plane crashed on January 10, 2017 on a remote beach off the coast of Queensland.

Light plane crash caught on camera

02:04

Light plane crash caught on camera

In January 2017, a Cessna 172 piloted by Les Woodall crashes on Middle Island, a remote beach in Queensland, killing one of the passengers.

A 29-year-old British backpacker died and two of the three other passengers, including pilot Les Woodall, were seriously injured when the Cessna 172 crashed near Middle Island.

The crash sparked several inquiries as well as the investigation by CASA. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is yet to make a determination on the crash. The Queensland police are still investigating the crash and a Coronial Inquiry is expected to be held early next year.

CASA – the body that licences pilots and oversees safety – launched its own investigation into the crash and released findings that suspended their pilots’ licences just 17 days after the crash. The finding was delivered the day after another light plane went down in Perth killing two passengers.

CASA said it had “reason to believe that the decision of Mr Woodall to pilot aircraft VH-WTQ at an impermissibly low level and his subsequent mishandling of the emergency landing were significant contributing factors to the accident which occurred on 10 January 2017.”

Mr Rhoades claims CASA’s investigation raises serious questions of procedural fairness and was flawed by sub-standard evidence.

Bruce Rhoades, in his Bathurst home,
Bruce Rhoades, in his Bathurst home,Credit:Phil Blatch

It said the plane exceeded its maximum take-off weight. Yet a load and balance sheet produced by Mr Rhoades says the plane was 15kg below the limit. Jason Lonnon, a passenger in the aircraft travelling behind the crash plane whose son was one of the survivors, was asked if he recalled being weighed and he said he couldn’t remember, but might have been.

He said “weight had nothing to do with the plane coming down.”

CASA claimed the plane’s fuel was contaminated, based on evidence collected in a used Coca Cola bottle some days after the accident.

A 29-year-old British backpacker died and two of the three other passengers, including pilot Les Woodall, were seriously injured when the Cessna 172 crashed near Middle Island.
A 29-year-old British backpacker died and two of the three other passengers, including pilot Les Woodall, were seriously injured when the Cessna 172 crashed near Middle Island.

It also said the pilot, Mr Woodall, should not have tried to land on the beach, an assessment disputed by a number of aviation experts, who were shown the video by the joint media investigation.

Like many of the experts, former CASA employee Kenneth Pratt, who worked as an airworthiness inspector for 20 years before retiring in 2008, said after watching the video, landing in water could have been even more disastrous.

“I don’t imagine that the passengers have vests or life preservers on so there would have been a potential for them to drown in an accident like that,” he said.

Mr Pratt said if the water was more than “four, five, six feet deep, the wheels would have dug in and the thing probably would have flipped which means it would have been upside down in the water.”

Bruce Rhoades whose aviation business had its licence taken away.
Bruce Rhoades whose aviation business had its licence taken away.

Mr Rhoades was on the scene of the crash within minutes and said the water was more than one metre deep.

Mr Rhoades said from engine failure to the crash was 27 seconds.

“From 180 feet with a failed engine choices are very limited….he [Woodall] made an impossible choice and saved three lives in 27 seconds, in some part due to the fact that he and I had discussed a water landing scenario and probable outcome many times,” he said.

CASA refused to be interviewed but responded to a series of questions. It said “based on available evidence, CASA’s position is that the pilot had a preferable option available and should not have attempted to perform a 180 degree turn back to the beach at the point in the flight when the alleged engine failure occurred.”

It said “the matter at hand is not about the potential risks involved in a water landing, but rather about the safest way to manage an aircraft in an emergency situation to avoid an aerodynamic stall”.

CASA also alleged that the plane was flying too low, which “significantly and unnecessarily raised the level of risk associated with the flight because it meant that, in the event of an unanticipated in-flight upset (such as an engine failure) he would have only minimal altitude, and therefore time, to safely manage the upset.”

Mr Woodall, the pilot who was flying the plane gave evidence to CASA and said he was inspecting the beach for debris prior to landing – something the company had approval from CASA to do.

Pilot Les Woodall.
Pilot Les Woodall.

Mr Woodall, who has an unblemished record, had planned to use some of this evidence to appeal the cancellation of his pilot’s licence in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. But in August CASA offered him a confidential settlement if he dropped the legal action.

It is understood the settlement did not require any admissions of wrongdoing or negligence. It also allows Mr Woodall to reapply for his pilot’s licence.

It is understood Woodall accepted the settlement offer and the action was dropped. He declined to comment.

The settlement was made before the police, a coronial inquiry or the official investigator, the ATSB, have finished their separate investigations into the accident.

Mr Rhoades, who has been given weeks to live after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in the brain, said his life had fallen fell apart after crash.

“The flashes I get the most, and I, I guess the thing that disturbs me the most, is doing CPR on that girl for so long. And, uh, that, I guess, is the thing that comes back, if you like, to haunt me,” he said.

“There’s Woody (Les Woodall) and myself being able to hold our heads up amongst our peer group in our own industry and the second reason is that, the family of the dead girl in particular and I want to make sure that they know the truth.

“And a third reason, I just can not allow this culture of CASA to go on, without speaking up very, very loudly against it.”

When CASA cancelled his licence, he said it not only financially ruined him, but destroyed his reputation.

Mr Rhoades has been flying since he was 18. He bought Wyndham Aviation in 2008 and said over the years about 30,000 people had taken his chartered flights.

He said in the early days he clashed with CASA, which didn’t like his adrenalin flights. In 2007 – when Mr Rhoades worked for another company, CASA grounded him which resulted in him pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court to four charges.

He pleaded guilty to administrative issues with his pilot’s log book and maintenance sheets. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of unauthorised commercial operations.

Mr Rhoades said he did charter flights but the company he worked for didn’t have a charter licence – something Mr Rhoades said he didn’t know and rectified once alerted.

He also let a tourist get a shot touching the controls mid-flight, which is not allowed. He said he never did it again.

The passengers on the back of the aircraft were far more severely injured because they did not have over shoulder seat-belting.

Bruce Rhoades

He was directed to undertake theory and flight examinations to demonstrate that he had the necessary knowledge and skill to continue to hold those licences.

Mr Rhoades said passengers enjoyed “rock and roll flights” but they weren’t aerobatic and before each flight passengers were asked to fill in a form if they wanted a flight which included a demonstration of a light aircraft’s ability within “normal” procedures. Passengers signed the form on January 10, before setting off.

But Mr Rhoades believes if CASA was serious about safety it would implement lessons learnt from his company’s accident.

“The passengers on the back of the aircraft were far more severely injured because they did not have over shoulder seat-belting in the back of the aircraft,” he said.

Jason Lonnon was one of the first people on the scene of a fatal plane crash. His son survived.
Jason Lonnon was one of the first people on the scene of a fatal plane crash. His son survived.

“If they mandated that all of those older aircraft be fitted with that over shoulder seatbelt immediately … They’ve not done that.”

“‘I thought I’d lost my son,” Jason Lonnon recalls. “It still amazes me today that he’s still alive and walking”.

Lonnon was on the second plane that landed minutes after the crash.

“It was a mess, it was like it had been chewed up by a dinosaur and spat out. It was a mess,” he said.

*See more tonight on 7.30, ABC TV


Dying pilot tries to clear his name after fatal plane crash

Updated

The owner of an aviation company involved in a plane crash that killed one passenger and injured three others has raised questions about evidence used by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to investigate him, his company and the pilot flying the plane.

Bruce Rhoades, who is dying of cancer, agreed to share new information with Fairfax and 7.30 in an attempt to try to clear his name — and the name of the pilot who flew the plane — before he dies.

Mr Rhoades questioned the evidence that CASA relied on to cancel his licence and the licence of Les Woodall, who was flying the plane that crashed.

‘Both Les and I have been grossly abused by CASA’

A 29-year-old British backpacker died and Mr Woodall and two other passengers were seriously injured when the Cessna 172 crashed near Queensland’s Middle Island.

Vision, which has never been seen publicly and obtained by the media, captures the flight and the final moments before and after the plane crashed on January 10, 2017.

The crash sparked an immediate investigation by the transport safety investigator, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which is yet to make a determination on why the plane crashed.

Queensland Police is also investigating the crash and there will be a coronial inquiry, expected to be held in the first quarter of next year.

CASA, the body that licences pilots and oversees safety, raised a few eyebrows when it launched its own investigation into the crash and released its findings — just 17 days after the crash.

CASA defended this action, saying the safety interests of the public were at the forefront of CASA’s decision making.

“I am very bitter about this,” Mr Rhoades said.

“I feel that both Les and I have been grossly abused by CASA.”

CASA accused Mr Rhoades’s company, Wyndham Aviation, of being “a serious and imminent risk to air safety”.

It claimed the plane exceeded its maximum take-off weight but a load and balance sheet for the flight shows it was 15 kilograms below the maximum take-off weight.

CASA said passengers were not weighed prior to the flight, but the pilots disagree.

CASA also said the fuel was contaminated, based on a sample collected in a used Coca-Cola bottle days after the accident.

And it determined that the pilot should have tried to land the plane in water, not on the beach, a move a number of aviation experts, contacted and shown the video, said could have been more dangerous.

After watching the video, former CASA employee Kenneth Pratt, who worked as an airworthiness inspector for 20 years before retiring in 2008, said landing in the water could have been even more disastrous.

“I don’t imagine that the passengers have vests or life preservers on so there would have been a potential for them to drown in an accident like that,” he said.

Mr Pratt said if the water was more than “four, five, six feet deep, the wheels would have dug in and the thing probably would have flipped which means it would have been upside down in the water”.

Pilot ‘saved three lives in 27 seconds’

Mr Rhoades, who was flying behind the plane that crashed, was on the scene within minutes and said the water was more than 1 metre deep.

He said from engine failure to the crash was 27 seconds.

Mr Rhoades believes Mr Woodall deserves credit for the fact that more lives were not lost.

“From 180 feet, with a failed engine, choices are very limited,” he said.

“[Woodall] made a choice and saved three lives in 27 seconds.”

CASA alleged that the plane was flying too low, which “significantly and unnecessarily raised the level of risk associated with the flight because it meant that, in the event of an unanticipated in-flight upset (such as an engine failure) he would have only minimal altitude, and therefore time, to safely manage the upset”.

However, Mr Woodall said he was inspecting the beach for debris prior to landing, something the company had CASA approval to do.

Mr Woodall planned to use this evidence, and more, to appeal against the cancellation of his pilot’s licence in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

But in August, CASA offered him a confidential settlement if he dropped the legal action.

Fairfax and 7.30 understands the settlement did not require any admissions of wrongdoing or negligence.

And it allowed Mr Woodall to reapply for his pilot’s licence.

The settlement was made before the police, a coronial inquiry, or the official investigator, the ATSB, has finished their investigations into the accident.

Doing CPR on dead girl ‘haunts me’

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Mr Rhoades, who has been given just weeks to live after being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in the brain, said his life fell apart after the crash.

“The flashes I get the most, and I guess the thing that disturbs me the most, is doing CPR on that girl for so long,” he said.

“That, I guess, is the thing that comes back, if you like, to haunt me.”

When CASA cancelled his licence, it not only financially ruined him but destroyed his reputation as well.

Mr Rhoades has been flying for decades. He set up the company in 2008, and said over the years about 30,000 people had taken his chartered flights.

He said in the early days he clashed with CASA, which did not like his adrenalin flights.

More than a decade ago, in 2007, when Mr Rhoades worked for another company, CASA grounded him which resulted in him pleading guilty in the Magistrates Court to four charges.

He was directed to undertake theory and flight examinations to demonstrate that he had the necessary knowledge and skill to continue to hold those licences.

He pleaded guilty to administrative issues with his pilot’s log book and maintenance sheets. He also pleaded guilty to a charge of unauthorised commercial operations.

Mr Rhoades said he did charter flights but the company he worked for did not have a charter licence, something Mr Rhoades said he did not know and rectified once alerted.

He also let a tourist get a photo touching the controls mid-flight, which is not allowed.

He said he never did it again and has had a clean slate up until the 2017 plane crash.

The pilot who crashed, Les Woodall, had no incidents and a clean record.

Mr Rhoades said passengers enjoyed “rock and roll flights” but they weren’t aerobatic and before each flight passengers were asked to fill in a form if they wanted a flight which included a demonstration of a light aircraft’s ability within “normal” procedures.

Passengers signed the form on January 10, before setting off.

‘I thought I’d lost my son’

The ATSB released an interim report into the crash in March 2017, but it did not conclusively say what caused the accident.

It is up to the coroner to examine all the evidence and determine the cause of death and make any safety recommendations.

But Mr Rhoades believes there is one lesson CASA could take from his company’s accident.

“The passengers on the back of the aircraft were far more severely injured because they did not have over shoulder seat-belting in the back of the aircraft,” he said.

“If they mandate that all of those older aircraft all be fitted with that over shoulder seatbelt immediately … they’ve not done that.”

Families of the passengers on the flight were contacted for comment.

Only the father of a 13-year-old boy who survived the flight agreed to speak.

He is still suffering trauma.

“I thought I’d lost my son,” Jason Lonnon said.

“It still amazes me today that he’s still alive and walking.”

Mr Lonnon was on the second plane that landed minutes after the crash.

“It was a mess,” he said.

“It was like it had been chewed up by a dinosaur and spat out.”

Mr Rhoades said he decided to speak out because he is determined to restore his and Mr Woodall’s reputations, and ensure the truth of what happened is known.

“There’s Woody [Les Woodall] and myself being able to hold our heads up amongst our peer group in our own industry,” he said.

“The second reason is that the family of the dead girl in particular … I want to make sure that they know the truth.

“And a third reason, I just can not allow this culture of CASA to go on, without speaking up very, very loudly against it.”

Watch the story 7.30 tonight on ABCTV and iview

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