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From crocs to court: how Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright came to face charges relating to fatal helicopter crash

03 Dec 2022 By theguardian

From crocs to court: how Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright came to face charges relating to fatal helicopter crash

Most of the year, Wright relocates the dangerous reptiles. In the warmer months, he and his team collect their eggs to keep the population in check.

He flew into Darwin this week and attended the Northern Territory police station on Tuesday. He was charged with perverting the course of justice and destroying evidence after the February crash. He is also accused of fabricating evidence, interfering with witnesses, making a false declaration and two counts of unlawful entry.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has examined the crash in detail, while questions swirl around what, exactly, happened after it.

The ATSB says in its preliminary report that on 28 February this year, three Robinson R44 helicopters with two people in each (none of whom were Wright), set out to collect crocodile eggs in Arnhem Land.

It was a warm, relatively still day.

The six people took off just after 7am, and went to King River via a fuel drum site, arriving at about 8.50am at a staging post near a crocodile nest.

Crocodile egg collectors are strapped into a harness or sling, which is connected to a 30-metre line, which in turn is attached to the chopper with hooks.

The tricky bit is distracting the mother aggressively protecting her clutch.

A YouTube clip shows Wright and his team trying to tire a crocodile out with a stick and a plastic crate.

They let her deathroll the crate, give her a smack on the head, and move her away from the 50 eggs she has laid.

The rotor had hit at least one tree before crashing to the ground in a paperbark swamp.

The chopper was sitting in long grass, crushed and broken, its rotors bent.

The pilot who found them left to find reception, and called for help, which arrived at about 12.30pm.

In the NT, with the right permits, you can capture crocodiles, or take their eggs, which can then be destroyed, or incubated, farmed and sold as live crocodiles.

The industry is thought by some to put a value on crocodile habitat, employing local people, and conserving the population.

Earlier in the year NT police officer Neil Mellon was arrested on charges including disclosure of confidential information and obtaining benefit by deception. Michael Burbidge, a helicopter pilot, was charged in September with offences including attempting to pervert the course of justice and destroying evidence.

None of the three arrested were out in the helicopters on that fateful day.

South Australian-born Wright, a perpetually outdoorsy type, lived in Papua New Guinea when he was young before the family moved to Cairns in far north Queensland. He appeared in the media years before he got his first show with National Geographic, Outback Wrangler.

The latest show, Wild Territory, aired on Nine, and on Netflix as Wild Croc Territory.

The NT government pledged $250,000 to the season, saying it expected more than 200 million people to watch.

She had assumed, the Australian reported, that it would cease being shown as soon as charges were brought.

Netflix declined to comment, while Channel Nine stopped streaming the show in August.

Wright is bailed until 25 January when his case is scheduled to return to the Darwin court. He has been excused from attending.

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