Former NT police officer Neil Mellon ‘likely’ to enter plea to inquest into helicopter crash that killed Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson

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A former Northern Territory police officer has gone on trial on charges relating to the investigation into a fatal helicopter crash that killed ‘Outback Wrangler’ star Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson earlier this year.

Then-acting Senior Sergeant Neil Mellon, 47, was arrested when he arrived at work late last month and charged with more than 30 offences.

Another man, helicopter pilot Michael Burbidge, was charged this week with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the inquest into the crash, which happened in western Arnhem Land, 500 kilometers east of Darwin, in February.

On Friday, Mr Mellon’s lawyer told Darwin Local Court he was trying to enter an early plea and deal with the case quickly.

“I’m indicating that I will request the charges and try to make the case for a plea the week of October third,” Julie Franz said.

A smiling man sitting on the steps of a grass field helicopter wearing a trucker cap and light blue ag worker shirt.
Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson, 34, was a popular crocodile wrangler and remembered as a devoted family man. (Delivered)

The 32 charges brought against Mr Mellon on Friday included disclosure of confidential information and unlawful access to data for gain.

Previous charges, including destruction of evidence and attempting to pervert the course of justice, were not on the court list.

Asked to clarify whether those charges had been dropped, the prosecutor’s office said it declined to provide “comment.”

NT Police also refused to clarify.

The sign outside Darwin Local Court.  The picture was taken on 22 June 2021.
Prosecutors declined to say whether two of the more serious charges against Mr Mellon had been withdrawn.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

The former warden and Territory Response Group (TRG) leader has been charged with a number of weapons, firearms, fireworks and wildlife offences.

Crown prosecutor Stephen Ledek noted that the charges, including those related to the investigation into the crash, carry potential prison terms.

“There are a variety of offenses that range between potentially three years and ten years [jail],” he said.

Sir. Ledek told the court that some of the cases may have to be heard in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

The case was adjourned to October 5 with Mr Mellon exempted from appearing in person and his bail continued.

a middle-aged man smiling
Mellon was also charged with weapons, firearms, fireworks and wildlife offences.(Delivered)

Chopper crash remains under multi-agency investigation

The crash, which happened on what was supposed to be a routine crocodile egg harvesting trip along the King River, is now the subject of an investigation by police, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and NT WorkSafe.

The ATSB released a preliminary report in April in which initial assessments indicated the engine had stopped before the helicopter hit the ground.

helicopter crash site
A preliminary ATSB investigation has found no defects that could cause engine failure before the crash.(Supplied: Careflight)

Mr. Wilson, 34, who was in a sling attached to the helicopter, was found about 40 meters from the crash site and died of his injuries.

The report also found that there were no defects in the helicopter likely to result in engine failure at the time.

Mr. Burbidge, who also appeared in ‘Outback Wrangler’, will appear in court in October.

NT WorkSafe has temporarily banned the use of a helicopter and sling in harvesting operations without an additional compliance check, citing “a serious risk to health and safety”.

A husband and father of two young boys, Mr. Wilson was remembered as a storyteller, cowboy and family man at a funeral attended by hundreds after his death.

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