Army Major Tells Orroral Valley Bushfire Inquiry He May Not Have Approved Helicopter Crew’s ‘Whiz Break’ That Led To Blaze

An Army major told the Orroral Valley Bushfire Inquiry that he may not have approved the helicopter crew’s ‘whizz break’ that led to the blaze. He stated that he had missed a phone call from one of the pilots.

An army major has told a coronial inquiry into a destructive bushfire south of Canberra in 2020 he may not have authorised a helicopter to land for a crew member’s toilet break if he had been asked.

The decision to land the helicopter in the Orroral Valley ignited the blaze when a light underneath the aircraft came into contact with dry grass.

The fire then burnt through more than 80,000 hectares of the Namadgi National Park, and spread across the border into New South Wales, where it destroyed properties.

The major, known to the inquiry as Witness D7, was the officer who authorised the helicopter’s reconnaissance mission on January 27, 2020.

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Today, he told the inquiry on that day he had missed a phone call from one of the pilots, which he believes was seeking permission for the unplanned landing.

The inquiry previously heard the landing was for a “whiz break” for one of the chopper’s crew members.

Counsel assisting Kylie Nomchong asked Witness D7 whether he would have approved the landing had he been asked.

“I would probably have asked him if he could make it back to Canberra,” he said.

Witness D7 said he would have had concerns about approving the landing, given the hot conditions and high fire danger on the day.

The coronial inquiry into the fire began last year, but was then delayed until this week.

Specifically, the inquiry is examining the 45 minutes it took Defence to notify local authorities of the fire’s location.

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