15 July 2008

Released on behalf of the Minister for Defence

The Department of Defence is releasing this statement on behalf of Mrs Melissa Bingley, wife of Captain Mark Bingley, who died as a result of a helicopter accident on HMAS Kanimbla.

Mrs Bingley has requested her privacy be respected and has advised Defence that she will not be conducting any media interviews.

The Board of Inquiry has been an intense and exhausting process and the release of the report today ends a very long and public phase of our lives.

I am providing this statement to the media in good faith and sincerely request the media now respectfully allow myself, Mitchell and Mark's family to live their lives in privacy and allow my husband Mark to rest in peace.

I am satisfied that the Board of Inquiry thoroughly examined all aspects of the accident in order to present their findings today.

I have only just received the report and will not comment on specific findings or recommendations. I would, however, like to make some general comments.

Mark was a loving husband and a caring father. Our son, Mitchell, was his pride and joy. Mark found his passion for aviation while serving as an Infantry soldier with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in Townville. He spent his own money and time to undertake civilian pilot training, and later applied for Army pilot training. It was his dream to fly Black Hawks for the Army and he considered it an absolute honour to serve with the men and women of 171 Aviation Squadron and alongside the Special Air Service Regiment. Mark served his nation on operational deployments in Cambodia, East Timor, and in the Solomon's.

Mark was doing a job that he loved. But make no mistake, Mark knew his job was dangerous and he took the responsibilities of flying with passengers very seriously as he was once one of those soldiers riding in the back. I can say with absolute confidence Mark would never intentionally or recklessly place his crew or passengers in danger.

Mark loved his colleagues like siblings. He would have taken the deployment on Operation Quickstep to potentially evacuate Australians at very short notice from a hostile and dangerous environment as an important duty, and consequently Mark would have been committed and focussed on that mission.

I know Mark was operating in difficult conditions on board HMAS Kanimbla and the reality of wars and conflicts are that conditions will not always be perfect for flying. Mark had a very busy role as flying Captain, Qualified Flying Instructor and Squadron Flight Lead on Operation Quickstep. But Mark was a highly trained and very capable pilot one of the Army's best. Mark was not a machine, he was merely human a very fine man doing an extraordinary job in the service of his country in extremely difficult circumstances. I remain fiercely proud of the job he did on that day and believe he did everything he could to save his passengers and crew.

Mark enjoyed all facets of his job teaching, testing, planning, briefings, and leadership. And he had a very busy job. I know he would be upset about the possibility that the lifesaving equipment and training was not sufficient to give him and Joshua Porter the best chance of survival. The fact that there was a dive team in the water at the time of the accident was just too coincidental and I know that if the aircraft had not sunk so fast both Josh and Mark would have had more time to get out or have someone help them.

I don't want Mark and Josh's lives to have been lost in vain. There has to be some positive outcome. I do not want any of my friends to ever receive that knock at their front door because there was not enough done or learnt from this accident. It cannot happen again.

I believe that the 'panduit strap' on Mark's breathing apparatus failed him. Crucial safety equipment cannot be vulnerable to such catastrophic failure and must be subject to rigorous testing before entering service as well as follow-on testing. I also feel that the question of flotation devices on the Black Hawks needs to be fully investigated and reconsidered, as does the present Helicopter Underwater Escape Training, which appears lacking in some respects.

I don't think the Australian public has any true understanding of the sacrifices that the men and women of the Australian Defence Force make every day in the service of our country. The sacrifices and pressures put on our service members, their families and children must be recognised. They do their job for the love of their country and to help keep us safe from harm and for that I am truly thankful. The mateship and concern they have all shown to the families involved makes me believe the ANZAC Spirit lives on.

I do not agree with the Board's decision to release the footage of the accident to the public on the first day of the hearing. I find it difficult to see the public interest in viewing a tragic accident. The public interest lies in being informed of the findings and recommendations of the Board in a timely manner, which is achieved through the timely release of the Board's report and not being witness to a fatal helicopter accident. My son Mitchell has become much more aware these days and has been exposed to the footage in the past few weeks without notice courtesy of the media and their desire for graphic and shocking images. The footage has been sensationalised and has no public interest, and I call on the legislature to closely consider restricting the public release of such tragic footage in the future. The privacy and interests of the families must be a factor in deciding whether to release footage of an accident.

Finally, after years of hard work on pilot training and then serving his nation as an Army aviator, I am proud to say that Mark became one of the best Black Hawk pilots. I know that our son, Mitchell, will come to share that same sense of pride in Mark's achievements in the years to come.

Melissa Bingley
15 July 2008