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Contempt For Authority And The Rule Of Law

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On Friday, 8 June 2012, the coronial inquest into the deaths of 60-year old pilot Barry Hempel and 35-year old Ian Lovell finished hearing evidence in Brisbane.


Both men were killed on 31 August, 2008 when a stunt plane piloted by Hempel plunged into the ocean off South Stradbroke Island.


The inquest heard testimony from doctors, Hempel Aviation officials, CASA officials and witnesses to the crash. Ostensibly, the state coroner John Hutton is investigating whether or not Hempel had epilepsy.


Hempel was noted by his peers as a great pilot. He could fly all manner of aircraft and was renowned as a trainer of pilots. He was also known as a bit of a larrikin, a man who didn’t always fly by the rules.


In 2001, Hemple was knocked unconscious after being hit by a hangar door. The inquest heard evidence that the injury might’ve been a bad one, with long lasting effects.


While on holiday later that year on an island off North Queensland, Hempel suffered an alleged seizure and was taken to Tully hospital. The inquest heard that Hempel told doctors he fainted from dehydration due to food poisoning.


In 2002, Advanced Care paramedic Matthew Collier and then Student paramedic Andrew Blyth treated Hempel for an alleged seizure at his home. Both were subpoenaed to give evidence at the inquest. Their testimony could prove to be crucial.


Collier told the inquest he attended Hempel’s address on 2 October, 2002 after Hempel’s wife called 000 and said her husband was suffering from a seizure. Blyth, then a student paramedic, was working with Collier. The code they received was 12A1, seizure but no longer arresting.


They arrived on scene about 8:08am. By that stage, Hempel was conscious but disorientated. Initially, he didn’t know where he was or what the time was.


‘Mrs Hempel told us her husband had had previous seizures,’ Collier told the court. ‘His wife described to us a generalised seizure, all over body shaking, jerking.’


After treating patients for a seizure, paramedics generally take them to an emergency ward for observation and further tests. Collier and Blyth tried convincing Hempel he needed to go to hospital. In their opinion, something serious had clearly happened, and Hempel was acting strangely.


‘Nonsensical, confusion,’ Collier said. ‘Picking up pillows and walking them to the other side of the room. And then back again.’


As Hempel recovered, he reacted as many people do when confronted by paramedics. He got angry, possibly because a fuss was being made. He said he felt fine. Collier said it was clear Hempel wanted them out of his house.


‘He was aggressive and that developed as he recovered,’ Collier.


Hempel was particularly angry with his wife. Collier said he was surprised how Hempel treated her, insisting that she shouldn’t have called for help.


‘I remember how aggressive he was,’ Collier said. ‘He was a bully.’


Hempel refused to go to hospital for observation, because, as Collier told the court, he had to fly a plane to New South Wales later that day to sell it.


Alarmed, Collier went outside and moved the ambulance.


‘I blocked the driveway with the ambulance to stop him flying,’ he said. Collier called Kerry Strong, the Officer in Charge at Woodridge station and requested backup, hoping that another paramedic might be able to persuade Hemple to go to hospital. The police were called too, because Collier wasn’t sure if he’d committed a criminal offence by blocking the driveway.


Hemmed in by the ambulance, unable to drive to the airport, Collier told the court Hempel then phoned his doctor in Noosa. They had a brief chat then Hempel handed the phone to Collier.


‘The doctor was saying don’t worry about it,’ Collier said of the alleged seizure. ‘He said I know Mr Hemple. He can do what he chooses.’


Collier asked the doctor if he would take responsibility if something bad happened.


‘He said he wouldn’t take responsibility,’ Collier told the inquest. ‘I did think the doctor would support me and say you can’t fly. From what I recall the doctor indicated he would not take responsibility for Mr Hemple if he drove and something happened.’


After being on scene for forty minutes, the paramedics left without Hempel.


‘I was under the impression that he was going to go and fly,’ Collier told the inquest. ‘We all left with the view that he was going to leave and fly. Nobody enjoyed leaving that day with something unresolved like that.’


The paramedics left Hempel’s house at 9:48am. Most of that time had been spent trying to convince Hempel to go to hospital. Later that morning, Collier, Blyth and Strong talked about contacting CASA and alerting them to Hempel’s intentions.


Ultimately, due to patient confidentiality, Collier didn’t.


‘I’d probably get the sack immediately (if he alerted CASA),’ he told the court.


Not long after the job, Blyth wrote an Ambulance Report Form (ARF) about the incident, as paramedics are required to do about every case. Blyth described the case in detail, what Hempel’s wife said, what Hempel was doing when they arrived on scene and how he reacted afterwards.


The ARF was tendered to the court.


Collier told the court he wrote a separate and more detailed ARF the following day and handed it in through normal channels at Woodridge station. That ARF, though, can’t be found at Woodridge. For almost ten years Collier kept two carbon copies but discarded them after last year’s floods. He remains aggrieved they’re gone.


‘In 14 years I’ve never formed a separate document for a case I went to,’ Collier told the court.


Almost six years later after Collier and Blyth treated Hempel for an alleged seizure, a Russian built Yak-52 piloted by Hempel crashed into the ocean on a clear day. Witnesses said the plane was doing loops when it disappeared about 12:15pm.


On 2 September 2008, I published the following story on the ABC’s website.


There are concerns that a pilot killed in a light plane crash in south-east Queensland last weekend did not have a commercial pilot’s licence.


Barry Hempel, 60, and his 35-year old passenger Ian Lovell, were killed when a stunt plane crashed into the ocean off South Stradbroke Island.


Friends of Mr Lovell have confirmed his girlfriend bought him the flight as a birthday gift.


The ABC understands Mr Hempel did not have a commercial pilot’s licence and was not authorised to fly paying customers.


Mr Hempel’s lawyer Peter Carter says his client held a valid private pilot’s licence that qualified him to fly the stunt plane and he was authorised to take passengers on a private basis.


The ABC has also been told Mr Hempel had a medical condition that caused blackouts.


The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is investigating Brisbane company Hempels Aviation over possible safety breaches, including Mr Hempel’s licence to fly.


The Yak-52 remains on the ocean floor.


On the inquest’s penultimate day, CASA’s Peter John was questioned by council Ken Flemming, who was representing Mr Lovell’s family. John admitted Hempel didn’t always adhere to regulations. The court heard Hempel was a regular offender, 102 breaches of aviation law. He’d also been fined $16,000 and received a three year good behaviour bond after being convicted of failure to maintain personal log book.


‘This was a man with contempt for authority and the rule of law,’ Mr Flemming said to John. ‘You believe there would be a change in attitude and practices to become compliant. At 59 he would become a model CASA citizen.’


‘Mr Hemple realised there needed to be a significant change in action and attitude or his licence would be removed for the duration,’ John said.


At the time, CASA permitted Hempel to retain his private license which meant he couldn’t fly passengers or train other pilots.


‘It was an exercise of hope over history,’ Mr Flemming said, before giving the inquest the following account of Hempel’s misdemeanours:


  • Operated aircraft without valid maintenance release (VMR)
  • Permitted flight to commence while VMR was not in force
  • Five counts of flying without a medical clearance
  • Two counts of contravene a maintenance direction
  • Failed to record on maintenance release the total time of service
  • Fail to retain a personal log book
  • Unauthorised test flights December 2002




Mr Flemming asked why CASA didn’t revoke Hempel’s license, given he’d been charged with five counts of flying without a medical clearance. Mr Flemming suggested that allowing Hempel to retain a restricted license gave him the potential to hire his services for payment or reward.


‘CASA is not in a position to stop anybody from wilfully doing something,’ John said. ‘The potential is there for any pilot to act above their licence.’


‘You’ve left the temptation there for him to abuse it,’ Mr Flemming said.


The court heard that Lovell boarded the plane by informed consent. That he chose to get into the aircraft meant he also chose the risks. It’s all about the agreement. The court also heard that Lovell knew nothing of Hempel’s 102 breaches or his alleged health issues.


‘You can’t enforce it,’ John said of restricting informed consent.


Hempel had 28,000 hours of logged flying time. Most pilots are proud of their airtime and log their hours meticulously, but Mr Flemming asked John if it was possible Hempel might’ve flown more hours.


‘Some pilots have been found to maintain parallel log books,’ John said. Despite all the breaches, John said CASA allowed Hempel to retain his private licence in good faith, to give him the chance to show he could behave.


‘Optimism in the extreme,’ Mr Flemming said. ‘He still had a licence to fly.’


When the court heard Hempel’s license allowed him to fly family, Coroner Hutton was bemused.


‘That shows a disregard for his family,’ he said.


CASA did act on Hempel’s repeated misdemeanours, however. The court heard that Hemple’s sister had made a complaint that CASA were harassing her brother.


‘He was simply under surveillance,’ John confirmed to the court.


Not long after, John became unresponsive in the dock. The paramedics who were due to give evidence were brought into the court to treat him. John exited the court on a stretcher and wouldn’t return to give further evidence.


On the last day of the inquest, Blyth confirmed much of what Collier had said the previous day. The phone call Hempel made to the doctor was a key point.


Though Blyth told the inquest he witnessed the phone call Hempel made to his doctor, it doesn’t appear on the ARF. Blyth couldn’t remember why he hadn’t included the phone call on the AFR, but told the inquest he was certain a call had taken place.


‘I recall the patient initiated the phone call with the doctor,’ Blyth said.


He told the court Hempel was in a postictal state when he arrived on scene. Generally lasting between five and thirty minutes, the postictal state is the altered state of consciousness people experience following a seizure. Hempel was confused and drowsy when the paramedics arrived and he’d had no recollection of what had happened.


‘I recall that he was pacing, raised voice, questioning who we were and why we were there.’


The coroner is expected to release his findings in August. He’ll decide if Barry Hempel was prone to epileptic fits yet continued to fly. John Hutton will make a series of recommendations. His findings could assist any further legal action raised against Hempel Aviation and Barry Hempel’s estate.


Mr Hutton may find that paramedics need to be authorised to pass on confidential and clinical information about their patients in situations where lives could be at stake.


The phone call Hempel allegedly made to his doctor should also interest the coroner. John Hutton might find a lot of people were aware of concerns about Hempel’s health.


Mr Hutton may discover a lot of those people allowed Hempel to fly, despite those concerns.


Below another interesting link and comments related to the inquest.





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Guest David C

I have great sympathy for the family of Mr Lovell in this case . Here was a man who lost his life , it would appear as a direct result of a third party person who had complete disregard for authority . No doubt the final coroners report in August will throw more light on the situation ..


Dave C



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