Outback Wrangler Matt Wright to file cross-claim against paraplegic pilot and co-star Chris Wilson’s company

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Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
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Netflix star Chris Wilson’s widow will come face-to-face with Outback Wrangler Matt Wright, Helibrook and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority – whom she is suing over her husband’s death – in Sydney next month.
Netflix star Chris Wilson’s widow will come face-to-face with Outback Wrangler Matt Wright, Helibrook and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority – whom she is suing over her husband’s death – in Sydney next month. Credit: Unknown/Facebook

Outback Wrangler Matt Wright, his company Helibrook and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority are all headed for mediation with the widow of Netflix star Chris Wilson, who is suing the three parties over her husband’s death in a Northern Territory chopper crash.

During a directions hearing in the Federal Court today, lawyers for the three respondents all agreed to attend a court-ordered mediation with Wilson’s widow Danielle on June 20.

Ms Wilson lost her husband and the father of their two sons on February 28, 2022, when the helicopter he was slinging beneath crashed in a remote part of West Arnhem Land during a crocodile egg-collecting mission.

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Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright
Outback Wrangler Matt Wright, his company Helibrook and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority are all headed for mediation with the widow of Netflix star Chris Wilson. Credit: Aaron Bunch/AAP

The destroyed Robinson R44 Raven II, registered VH-IDW, was owned and operated by Wright’s company Helibrook, and contracted to Wild Harvest NT.

The operation was being conducted under a CASA authorisation — which allowed Helibrook to sling a person beneath its piston engine-powered helicopters for the purpose of crocodile egg collecting — at the time it crashed.

Wilson, who was suspended below the chopper in a harness attached to a 30m line, was released as the chopper crashed, soon after take-off from a clearing near the King River.

Pilot Sebastian Robinson was critically injured and is now paraplegic.

Following her husband’s death, Ms Wilson engaged Salerno Law managing partner Cliff Savala, who briefed barrister David Lloyd SC and Matthew Kalyk from 12 Wentworth Selborne, to sue Helibrook and CASA.

Ms Wilson, 34, later successfully applied to join Wright in the proceedings as a third respondent.

None of the respondents have filed a defence.

The Federal Court today heard that Wright intends to file and serve cross-claims against Mr Robinson, Helibrook’s insurer — HDI Specialty Australian Branch — and Helibrook’s insurance broker, Unity Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd.

This comes after the insurance company declined indemnity to both Helibrook and its high-profile director.

Helibrook and Wright also intend to file a cross-claim against one of Wilson’s own companies, which he used to invoice his crocodile egg collecting work.

Chopper crash victim Chris 'Willow' Wilson and his wife Danielle
Chopper crash victim Chris 'Willow' Wilson and his wife Danielle Credit: Supplied

The court has granted leave to Helibrook and Wright to issue subpoenas to produce documents on Mick Burns’ company Wild Harvest NT Pty Ltd and QBE Insurance Australia Limited.

Mr Kalyk today told the court his client, Ms Wilson, is seeking mediation.

“So the orders we propose will be one that the parties participate in mediation by 20 June 2024,” he said.

The court heard that Wright and Helibrook consent to mediation while CASA has “a number of reservations as to that approach”.

Lawyer Peter Ward, representing CASA, did not oppose the proposed early mediation “on the basis of the Statement of Claim and the affidavit material”.

“But just practically the first one’s already been raised, which is the question of non-parties if they choose not to attend, it may not be productive mediation, and in the absence of them actually being joined before the mediation, we cannot force them,” he said.

Justice Elizabeth Raper said she could not order the non-parties, who Wright plans to file cross-claims against, to attend mediation.

Barrister Darryn Kelly, acting for Helibrook and Wright, said the prospective cross-defendants are obliged to participate in the mediation.

“We don’t expect any (inaudible) by another party at the mediation and most likely not in the proceedings, but at the moment, all indications are that if people attended mediation in good faith, as they are obliged to do, that it has reasonable prospects of achieving something and that seems to be consistent with fast, quick and cheap,” he said.

“If it can finalise the proceedings that seems to be the sensible course.

“We are content to proceed to mediation with the status quo as is and we’ll make decisions about what happens after that if the matter can’t resolve.”

Outback Wrangler Matt Wright and pilot Michael Burbidge were charged in relation to the investigation into the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed Chris Wilson in February 2022.
Outback Wrangler Matt Wright and pilot Michael Burbidge were charged in relation to the investigation into the fatal Northern Territory chopper crash that killed Chris Wilson in February 2022. Credit: CareFlight/Supplied

Ms Wilson claims CASA, Helibrook and Wright breached their duty of care in allowing her husband to be slung beneath a piston engine-powered chopper to collect crocodile eggs the day he was killed.

The young widow — now also a single mum — is claiming damages, interest, costs, interest on costs and “such other order as the court sees fit”.

“As a result of this conduct, the applicant suffered nervous shock or psychiatric harm and loss of maintenance and financial support of Mr Wilson during the course of his lifetime,” the claim states.

Justice Raper referred the matter for court-ordered mediation, to be completed by June 20, and listed the case for another directions hearing on June 27.

In the meantime, Mr Wright’s most serious criminal charge – attempting to pervert the course of justice – is listed for a criminal call-over in the NT Supreme Court on Thursday, where a trial date or a further hearing could be set.

In February, NT WorkSafe also charged Helibrook and its director with breaches of the NT’s work health and safety laws over their alleged failures to maintain safe aircraft and for allegedly allowing the aircraft to be operated when unsafe.

Those charges are set down for a directions hearing in the Darwin Local Court on May 27.

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