A microlight pilot who “buzzed” a couple on a beach at Barrytown, on the West Coast, has been banned from flying for six months and fined $4500.
Judge Stephen O’Driscoll said at William Alan Weir’s Christchurch District Court sentencing that he had tried to scare and intimidate the couple in the incident in February 2017.
His microlight passed over Roger and Janette Reid at a height of only 5m or less.
The incident apparently arose from some long-standing animosity between Weir and the couple, which was not detailed in court.
Weir had pleaded guilty to the charge of operating an aircraft “in a manner causing unnecessary endangerment”, but had disputed some details of the offending. That led to Judge O’Driscoll holding a disputed facts hearing in Greymouth, but the sentencing was then transferred to Christchurch.
Defence counsel Eymard Bradley, from Greymouth, applied for a discharge without conviction for Weir, who has been flying microlights for 35 years and has no previous convictions.
Judge O’Driscoll ruled out the discharge and imposed the penalty.
He also spoke of divisions in the small West Coast community about the prosecution. It was clear that some members of the community thought the prosecution was unfair and thought the victims should not have complained.
Judge O’Driscoll said he thought the victims had acted appropriately and the prosecution had been brought fairly, by the Civil Aviation Authority.
He told Weir: “While there may have been a history of animosity between you and the victims, your actions weren’t justified. I hope you will put this behind you and get on with all others in your community in the future.”
Civil Aviation prosecutor Chris Macklin said it was not automatic that Weir’s licence would be cancelled because of the conviction. However, if there were any further incidents that led to concern that he was not a fit and proper person it may be considered.
Mr Bradley said Weir had been supposed to maintain a minimum altitude of 500ft in the area unless he was landing. He had been looking to land at the beach, but the judge had found that he made a spur of the moment decision to fly in the direction of the couple, who had quad bikes, an umbrella, and picnic table on the beach.
Judge O’Driscoll ruled that the consequences of conviction were not out of proportion of the seriousness of the offending, which he regarded as being “moderate to serious”.
“It would have been a terrifying experience for them. The altitude was such that any margin for error was practically non-existent. There was a potential for tragic circumstances to occur.”
He said he had received references and testimonials which said that Weir was reliable, creditable had a good character, and had skills and qualities as a pilot. But he had acted out of character and made a spur of the moment decision to fly towards the Reids.
He authorised release to the media of the photograph taken by Roger Reid so that the public could decide for themselves about the nature of Weir’s flying. “They can decide whether they would have been happy to be in the position of the Reids when your plane flew over them.”
After the hearing, Janette Reid said the couple were okay after the incident, and described the sentencing as “a good outcome”. Roger Reid said the couple did not know what the animosity was about.