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Defence Minister Releases Samoa Flight Papers

The Minister of Defence Mark Burton has today released papers relating to the decision to fly a Dunedin man back from Samoa on compassionate grounds.

"On the 17th August 2000 I requested that assistance be offered to a distraught father whose 7 year old daughter had been seriously injured in a car crash and was not expected to live.

"Advice from Katherine Rich's parliamentary office indicated that the child had undergone surgery to remove part of her brain, she was in a drug-induced coma and that doctors were amazed that she had even survived the surgery.

"The request for assistance had to be dealt with urgently and my decision was made on the basis of the information then available to me.

"Having now had the opportunity to review relevant documents and the chronology of events, I wholeheartedly stand by my decision," Mark Burton said.

"However, I am concerned at the escalating cost and diversion of resources that has occurred as the result of one MP's obsession with this matter.

"The cost of dealing with Rodney Hide's endless and repetitive inquiries has now reached at least 4 times the cost incurred by the humanitarian action in Samoa.

"The documents now released demonstrate the sequence of events on the 17th August. While there are some minor discrepancies in the recording of details, the documents are consistent with my public and parliamentary statements.

"Taken together, the documents show that while I was told that the carriage of the father was against military advice, I was advised that it would not break any International or New Zealand laws. At no time were any safety concerns raised or was there any suggestion that the recommended flying hours might be exceeded.

"In the aftermath of the flight, the flying hours and other safety issues were raised and were discussed with me by the Chief of Defence Force. There are certainly some lessons to be learnt from the unique circumstances of this humanitarian mercy mission.

"However, it is important to note that when my request to assist the father on compassionate grounds was conveyed to NZDF, I understood the plane was still on the ground in Samoa," Mark Burton said.

"The relevant issue was therefore whether there would be any hazard to the passenger, plane or crew by having this additional person on board. Time was of an essence, and nothing I had been told suggested that this man's presence posed any real risk.

"The fact that I was advised that he was an explosives expert did suggest to me that he could make an informed judgement and would be sensitive to safety requirements on board.

"Further, I acted having full confidence in the high level of professionalism and competence of the aircrews who fly our C-130s.

"All those defence personnel involved should feel some real satisfaction that they were able to provide this assistance.

"I must again stress that I stand by my original decision to request this humanitarian mercy response," Mark Burton said.


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