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Aircraft engineer Lawrence McCann jumps on wing of plane with engines running, punches pilot

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A twin-engine Cessna 402 similar to the one in which a pilot was punched by an engineer who climbed on the wing as it was preparing to take off. Photo / Supplied

A senior aircraft engineer who climbed on a plane as its propellers were spinning and punched the pilot in the head so hard he couldn’t control the Cessna, has failed to avoid conviction.

Lawrence McCann lost his cool, triggered by what he claimed were the consequences of a pilot running the engines of a plane outside the Nelson Airport hangar where he was working.

A base manager for Originair, McCann was also responsible for workplace safety on the site, and was described as a senior and trusted member of the aviation industry.

In May last year, he performed what the Nelson District Court heard yesterday was akin to “vigilante action” when he climbed on the wing of the twin-engine Cessna as it was preparing to taxi and punched the pilot several times in the head while yelling a string of obscenities at him.

The pilot was unable to shut down the engines as he tried to block the blows to his head.
His feet then came off the brake pedals, and he was not in control of the aircraft.

The position of the nosewheel was said to have prevented the aerial survey aircraft, laden with fuel and oxygen tanks, and with a camera operator in the rear, from moving forward.

McCann had admitted charges in relation to the events he said were triggered by concern for the engineering crew working on a nearby Originair Jetstream aircraft, who had been disrupted several times by the actions of the Cessna pilot coming and going during the day.

It failed to lessen his culpability in the eyes of Judge Tony Zohrab, who yesterday declined his application for a discharge without conviction on charges brought by the Civil Aviation Authority.

McCann’s lawyer Michael Vesty argued that the consequences of a conviction outweighed the gravity of the offence, and might disrupt his ability to travel at short notice, which his job required him to do.

Prosecutor Chris Macklin described what happened as “very serious”.

“For an aviator to cross a taxi-way to a running aircraft, jump on the wing and assault the pilot to the extent he loses control of the aircraft is extraordinary,” Macklin said.

A police investigation after a complaint from the pilot resulted in McCann being referred to an Iwi Community Panel Meeting in June last year.

The summary of facts said McCann and two other aircraft engineers had been working on the Jetstream, which was on hydraulic jacks in the Originair hangar, with the door partially open.

McCann felt that the air movement, or wash, from the Cessna’s propellers was moving the Jetstream, which was positioned with the tail section protruding outside the hangar.

The Cessna plane involved in the incident. Photo / Tracy Neal
The Cessna plane involved in the incident. Photo / Tracy Neal

The Cessna 402, which was stored in the same hangar, had been moved outside earlier that day.

When the Cessna pilot and camera operator did an initial test flight that afternoon, staff working on the Jetstream told McCann it had wobbled, forcing them to move away out of concern it might come off the jacks.

Minutes later the Cessna landed and the pilot returned to the parking area in front of the hangar, which McCann said caused the Jetstream to sway on the jacks, which once more forced staff to stop working on it and move away.

McCann said he looked for the pilot to speak with him about it but couldn’t find him.

Soon after the pilot and camera operator once more prepared for another flight.

As the Cessna’s engines were running, the pilot released the park brake and increased the revs for between 30 seconds to a minute before he released the foot brake to begin rolling forward.

At that moment the pilot felt something rocking the left wing, and noticed a man he recognised as “Lawrence” had climbed on it.

McCann then pulled the pilot’s hatch fully open, grabbed the pilot with both hands and pushed him across the cabin while swearing and yelling, “you f*****g stupid moron, you f*****g c***.”

He then punched the pilot in the head several times, knocking off his audio headset and glasses, and leaving him with grazes to his face. The pilot was also hit around the shoulder and chest.

As the pilot was pushed his feet came off the controls and he was unable to shut down the engines because he was using his hands to deflect the punches.

The Cessna was at the time carrying 600 litres of aviation fuel and had three oxygen tanks.

After the assault, the pilot noticed minor damage to a portion of the wing and some cracking to the inner door lining, which happened during the assault.

The pilot did not return to full work duties for about four weeks.

The court heard McCann’s actions could have knocked the pilot unconscious leaving the aircraft with no one at the controls, which posed a significant risk to the pilot, the camera operator and the aircraft, and also McCann who was on the wing and near one of the aircraft’s spinning propellers.

Judge Tony Zohrab said it was good luck rather than good management that things didn't get out of control after a pilot was punched while preparing to take off. Photo / Nelson Weekly
Judge Tony Zohrab said it was good luck rather than good management that things didn’t get out of control after a pilot was punched while preparing to take off. Photo / Nelson Weekly

Judge Zohrab said while the worst didn’t happen, the potential was there for a “very serious incident”.

“It was good luck rather than good management that things didn’t really get out of control.”

The CAA said McCann had since apologised to the pilot and had accepted the iwi panel’s recommendation to undertake an anger management course, but the aviation dynamics of McCann’s conduct had not been addressed.

In August last year McCann, now aged 54, was interviewed by two CAA investigators. He accepted his response was not appropriate but felt the Cessna pilot should accept some responsibility.

He said he had put up with the Cessna operations on three occasions that day, in which the operator had had “no regard for the lives of he and his workers”.

Vesty said McCann fully understood the consequences of his actions, and that he had jeopardised his own good standing as a well-known, well-respected member of the industry.

Macklin said McCann was a senior figure in the industry who knew better, but instead he “traversed a controlled area and attacked a pilot”.

While Judge Zohrab agreed with CAA’s stance, he did not place the offending in the same category of seriousness.

“I’m told this is as serious as it gets under CAA regulations unless it moves to some terrorism-like activity,” Judge Zohrab said.

He said McCann had displayed “vigilante action” by taking the law into his own hands in his remonstration of the pilot.

He also acknowledged it was an isolated incident that had been a salutary lesson for McCann, who was in the twilight years of a career that had taken him around the world.

Judge Zohrab refused his application for a discharge without conviction and fined him $2000.

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