Irwin in hot water after joy flight in protected peaks

A joy flight carrying television personality Robert Irwin may have breached guidelines for helicopter operations in wilderness areas by flying at low levels through declared sensitive areas, witnesses claim.

Campers in the remote Du Cane Range, near the Overland Track, were last week surprised by the appearance of the helicopter breaking the early morning silence.

It circled Mt Geryon and other peaks inside a declared sensitive area where helicopter flights and flying at low levels are strongly discouraged.

Mr Irwin posted a video to his Instagram page shot in the same area at the same time including close passes of peaks and low-level flying within the sensitive area.

Witnesses said they heard no other flights in the days before or after.

 

 

In response to an inquiry from the Mercury, the general manager Australia Zoo Luke Reavley said he was not aware of the incident but Mr Irwin was not responsible for the helicopter's flight path.

"Obviously being a child under the age of 18, Robert wouldn't have been in control of where the helicopter travelled," he said.

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is governed by a Fly Neighbourly Agreement between the Parks Service and helicopter operators "to promote the harmonious relationship between aviation activities and environmental and conservation interests".

The agreement is mentioned in the World Heritage Area Management Plan.

"Flights in and through the SAs should be kept to a minimum, and aircraft should be operated at an altitude and configuration that will minimise noise and visual impact for ground observers," the agreement reads.

 

A helicopter flies low over Tasmania's World Heritage wilderness at Mt Geryon in the Du Cane Range near the famous Overland Track. Picture: Supplied
A helicopter flies low over Tasmania's World Heritage wilderness at Mt Geryon in the Du Cane Range near the famous Overland Track. Picture: Supplied

 

But the Tasmanian Parks Service says it has no control over the operation of aircraft over the World Heritage Area and won't be taking any action.

Bushwalker Meredith Thurstans was part of a group of walkers on a six-day walk in the remote area.

She said she was on the high on the flanks of Mt Hyperion and initially thought it was a rescue helicopter.

"Next thing I see it's not the rescue helicopter. It was flying very close to Geryon and flew very close to Ossa, came by Hyperion and then flew quiet close to the Acropolis.

"I thought 'you have to be kidding me'.

"It was quite a long time they spent flying around in the World Heritage Area. They were right up close to the mountains.

"He was flying really close to the mountains and quite low. He was below the mountain top.

"It's just not on. You don't walk for three days and expect some peace and quiet and then be buzzed by a helicopter."

 

A helicopter flies low over Tasmania's World Heritage wilderness. Picture: Supplied
A helicopter flies low over Tasmania's World Heritage wilderness. Picture: Supplied

 

John Vanderniet was part of the same walking group.

"We were pretty surprised because we thought helicopters weren't allowed in the World Heritage Area without prior approval," he said.

"Its highly intrusive because you can hear them from a long way away. It's a bit like the Vietnam War movies you see.

"What concerns me is that it seems the requirements are relaxing or the government is allowing or pushing this sort of thing.

"The very occasional flight you can put up with, but if it's becoming pervasive like is it in New Zealand, it's a great shame for walkers."

A Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said the service does not have jurisdiction over the airspace in the World Heritage Area.

 

Robert Irwin enjoys a helicopter flight over the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage Area in the Du Cane Range. Picture: Instagram
Robert Irwin enjoys a helicopter flight over the Tasmanian wilderness World Heritage Area in the Du Cane Range. Picture: Instagram

 

"PWS has no jurisdiction over airspace and no legal basis to pursue pilots who may not have followed the voluntary guidelines.

"If an incident is reported to PWS, the pilot is made aware of the guidelines - provided they can be identified.

"Breaches of the guidelines are rare, with most pilots following the guidelines."

"Commercial and private overflights do occur and provide opportunities for visitors to enjoy the magnificent landscapes of the area and contribute to the diversity of visitor experiences that are offered.

"All operators of scenic and charter flights are requested to follow Fly Neighbourly Advice Tasmanian World Heritage Area and Mt Field National Park guidelines to mitigate potential impacts on other users of the TWWHA."

The operation of helicopters in national parks has been controversial in recent years with conservationists arguing that the noise they generate damages the wilderness experience people seek when they venture into the state's wilderness.

Proposals for a helicopter-serviced tourism operation at Lake Malbena in the state's central highlands have attracted widespread opposition.

And a mass unauthorised landing by a squadron of helicopters in the state's South-West prompted an inquiry by the Parks and Wildlife Service, although no offence was detected. 

david.killick@news.com.au

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Irwin in hot water after joy flight in protected peaks


Bowen Basin water supply a ‘nationally significant’ priority

Premium Content Bowen Basin water supply a ‘nationally significant’ priority

A report has found ‘constrained water supply’ is limiting the growth of...

Do you know this man? Police probe alleged Airlie assault

Premium Content Do you know this man? Police probe alleged Airlie assault

Police have released an image of a man they say might be able to help with their...

Christensen not backing down on ‘draconian’ IR Bill fight

Premium Content Christensen not backing down on ‘draconian’ IR Bill fight

Labor has warned many Mackay workers would be worse off under the bill currently...