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Family of Broome chopper crash victim Amber Millar sue dead pilot Troy Thomas’ company Avanova

Tim Clarke and Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
Amber Jess Millar was killed in July 2020 during the in-flight break-up of Robinson R44 Raven 1 helicopter VH-NBY at Broome. She was 12.
Amber Jess Millar was killed in July 2020 during the in-flight break-up of Robinson R44 Raven 1 helicopter VH-NBY at Broome. She was 12. Credit: supplied by family/supplied

The parents of a schoolgirl killed in a chopper crash in one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations are suing the dead pilot’s company.

In July 2020, pilot Troy Thomas and 12-year-old Amber Millar were killed when his helicopter — registered VH-NBY — crashed immediately after take-off from an industrial site in the iconic holiday spot of Broome in WA’s North West.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s three-year investigation into the fatal crash found that Thomas — who had been a high-profile tourism ambassador — had a “high-risk appetite”, a history of non-compliance with aviation laws, was not authorised to fly the helicopter and knew there was a serious issue with it before the final fatal flight.

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The ATSB’s final report revealed that Thomas and others knew the helicopter had been exhibiting an unusual vibration through the tail rotor pedals in the weeks before the double fatality in the Kimberley.

The destroyed Robinson R44 Raven II was owned and operated by Thomas’s company Avavova Pty Ltd.

News. Amber Jess Millar was killed in July 2020 during the in-flight break-up of Robinson R44 Raven 1 helicopter VH-NBY at Broome. She was 12. Pictured are her mother Fiona Benbow and step-father Clint Benbow.
Amber’s mother Fiona Benbow and step-father Clint Benbow. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

And The Nightly can now reveal that Amber’s parents, Fiona and Clint Benbow, have launched civil proceedings against Avanova over their daughter’s death.

The director of Avanova is Sophie Thomas, Troy Thomas’ widow, who was present to witness the crash which also killed her husband, and seriously injured their daughter Mia.

The Benbow’s are also suing that company’s operations manager Bryce McGlashan, who was also a pilot and who had flown the faulty helicopter in the weeks leading up to the fatal crash.

And a third defendant is Pearl Coast Heli Maintenance, the company that carried out tests on the chopper before it fatally plunged to the ground.

The various cases came before Perth’s District Court for the first time on Wednesday, with noted barrister Tim Hammond representing the Benbow family.

The six separate cases — three brought by Amber’s mother Fiona and three more by her father Clint — were consolidated together by registrar Tania Jeyamohan.

And she also agreed to allow Avanova and Mr McGlashan’s lawyers more time to file their defence to the detailed claim, as they intend to retain their own expert to inspect the chopper wreckage.

Troy Thomas.
Troy Thomas. Credit: Supplied/TheWest

The case is scheduled to return to court in May this year.

The civil lawsuits were lodged after a West Australian coroner last year refused to hold an inquest into Amber’s death.

Coroner Michael Jenkin told Amber’s grief-stricken parents that he had sufficient evidence to make his findings about their daughter’s death without holding an inquest and that he does not believe doing so would generate additional evidence.

In a letter, Coroner Jenkin said that evidence included the reports by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and then West Australian Police.

That decision devastated the Benbow family.

“We want to know what it takes in Australia for Governments and their agencies to take the loss of life seriously enough to take action,” they later said.

“The State Government wants to promote tourism in WA. This is an important issue.

“We have told the Premier Roger Cook, when he was Tourism Minister, that he needs to look very closely at safety in this sector. We repeat that call now.”

Amber and her parents, Clint and Fiona. 12-year-old Amber was killed in the helicopter crash that killed Troy Thomas.
Amber with her parents, Clint and Fiona. Credit: Supplied./Supplied

The ATSB report into the crash which killed Amber found a history of unreported accidents and incidents involving Mr Thomas’ commercial and private operations.

“These occurrences included two tail rotor strikes in different R44 helicopters, and a total hull loss of another R44 helicopter [VH-ZGY] that resulted in serious injuries to a passenger,” the ATSB report said.

And it was revealed late last year that Avanova is also being sued by another plaintiff — Chelsea Cortese — who was injured in a separate, earlier chopper crash involving Mr Thomas.

In 2019, Mr Thomas was the pilot of a chopper that took off from a boat when it yawed, leading the rotor blades to smashing up the starboard side of the vessel, shattering the glass windows before nose-diving into the water.

Ms Cortese was seriously injured in that crash and almost drowned. The helicopter, owned and operated by Thomas’ company Avanova Pty Ltd, was destroyed.

In her civil suit, Ms Cortese claims damages are owed — for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety — because of Avanova’s “negligence, breach of contract, and/or breach of statutory duty”.

No future date for that case has been set.

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