The Commonwealth government has won an appeal against a magistrate's findings that one of its agencies broke the law by failing to prevent the death of a helicopter pilot in Antarctica.
David Wood, 62, was just about to return to his chopper after depositing some fuel drums on the icy continent when he fell about 10 metres into a crevasse in 2016.
He was trapped for about five hours and later died from hypothermia.
The Commonwealth's Australian Antarctic Division and government contractor Helicopter Resources were subsequently charged with three counts each of exposing workers to the risk of death or serious injury by failing to comply with health and safety duties.
Magistrate Glenn Theakston cleared Helicopter Resources, which employed Captain Wood, of all charges in the ACT Industrial Court in 2019.
In doing so, Mr Theakston was satisfied the government's Antarctic agency had neglected to take a series of what he accepted were "reasonably practicable" steps to ensure the safety of pilots.
These included analysing satellite imagery of different sites, like the one where Captain Wood fell, to identify risks like potential crevasses before allowing workers to land a helicopter and walk on the ice surface.
"Much of that information was with the [Australian Antarctic Division] and not with Helicopter Resources," he said.
In his decision, the magistrate described the government agency as having had specialist knowledge that Helicopter Resources should have been able to rely upon to safely complete operations on the southern continent.
"There is no evidence that Helicopter Resources was aware, or ought to have been aware, of how satellite images may be used for the purpose of determining whether a remote site was more prone to crevassing than another site," Mr Theakston said.
But in an ACT Supreme Court appeal judgment on Thursday, Justice Michael Elkaim found the Australian Antarctic Division should not have been expected to comply with the measure involving the use of satellite imagery either.
He said the Commonwealth must therefore be acquitted because guilty verdicts on the relevant charges required proof each of the steps was "reasonably practicable", and this one was not.
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