Helicopter fans conflict at Byron Bay school

A chartered helicopter landed without authorisation at a Catholic school in Byron Bay yesterday, creating great excitement among the children but raising fears among the parents.

The Northern Star reports that young children ran towards a chartered helicopter as it made an unauthorised landing at Byron Bay's St Finbarr's Catholic Primary School at lunchtime on Tuesday.

Australia's aviation watchdog yesterday said it would investigate the incident, which has outraged parents of children at the school. Parents say the action endangered the lives of their children.

The helicopter landed unannounced on the oval of the school during lunch hour.

The Northern Star says that children were around the oval, eating lunch and playing, when the helicopter landed.

They ran to the aircraft from all directions as soon as it set down, overwhelming the efforts of teachers on playground duty to restrain them.

It was understood that the passenger in the helicopter had come to Byron Bay for a lunch appointment.

It was also understood that, once the rotors stopped, the pilot asked one of the teachers to stop the children touching the helicopter.

The company that is alleged to own the helicopter yesterday declined to comment on the incident, saying only the company director could speak publicly and that he was out of town.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority corporate communication manager Peter Gibson said aviation rules stated that pilots needed the permission of the landowner before setting down on private property.

Pilots were also not allowed to land without first making sure it was safe to do so, meaning the area had to be clear of trees, powerlines and people.

Director of Catholic Schools for the Lismore Diocese, Dianne Marshall, said that no permission to land "was sought or given by the school, parish or the Catholic Education Office".

Mr Gibson said CASA investigators would talk to the company and the pilot of the helicopter, but landing in a school playground unannounced was unacceptable.

"Landing in a public place, whether it's a school or anywhere else people gather, is normally subject to a stringent risk assessment," he said. "If permission is given, the pilot has to do a full risk-management proposal. The problem with doing it unplanned is no one can assess the risks."

The exception to that rule was if the aircraft had to make an emergency landing to avoid a crash.

Anger over schoolyard helicopter landing (Northern Star, 7/12/06)

8 Dec 2006