Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright is used to performing daredevil crocodile nest raids, but now he’s wading through media scrums as he’s slapped with charges over a chopper crash that killed his mate.
Wright, 43, flew to Darwin from Sydney on Tuesday morning to present himself to Northern Territory police after an arrest warrant was issued over the helicopter crash in west Arnhem Land in February.
His friend Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson died in the incident and pilot Sebastian Robinson was left with potentially life-changing spinal injuries.
The reality TV star did his best to try and evade reporters throughout the day – from the moment he left NSW at about 8am to the point where he walked out of a police station in Palmerston at about 6pm.
He spent about three hours with detectives on Tuesday afternoon before NT Police confirmed he was charged with several counts including attempting to pervert the course of justice and destroying evidence.
Wright leaving the Darwin police station on Tuesday evening (pictured), he was granted bail to appear in court on Wednesday morning
He was bailed to appear in Darwin Local Court at 9.30am on Wednesday.
Wright strenuously denied any wrongdoing in a statement on Monday, but remained tight-lipped when approached by reporters on Tuesday.
He tried to out-run reporters inside Sydney Airport before settling in for the 4.5-hour business class flight across the Red Centre.
When he emerged from Darwin Airport, he was flanked by bodyguards who barged past media while shouting and throwing their hands at flashing camera lenses.
Wright could be seen grinning in the photos and footage of the ordeal, as his guards pushed camera crews out of the way.
The day of the tragic crash began like any other for chopper pilot Seb Robinson and crocodile egg collector Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson – with the pair set to soar across the majestic tropical landscape to hunt for saltwater crocodile eggs in the name of conservation and farming.
But a short time after their helicopter came plummeting to the ground in a remote part of the outback.
Mr Robinson was just 28 but already had 2,500 hours of flying time under his belt. A beloved bush pilot, he is renowned for his infectious laugh and love of the land.
He’d wanted to be a helicopter pilot ever since he was six years old when he won a chopper ride in a boot-throwing competition at a bush gymkhana outside Darwin.
There was not a single day that could not be improved by him heli-trekking out with a mate to a remote billabong and wetting a line for a fish to cook on a campfire.
Seb Robinson (pictured) was just 28 but already had 2,500 hours of flying time under his belt and was a beloved bush pilot, renowned for his infectious laugh and love of the land
Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson (pictured) was a fearless crocodile egg collector, hanging precariously under the chopper on a 30m-long thread of rope to pluck eggs from crocodile nests
Wilson was a fearless crocodile egg collector, hanging precariously under the chopper on a 30m-long thread of rope to pluck eggs from crocodile nests.
The daredevil stunt is every health and safety officer’s worst nightmare, but there were double-safeguard protections built in to try to prevent accidents.
However, only in Australia could this be your day job.
Eggs from the wild are vital for the crocodile farm trade to avoid the tricky breeding process in captivity where the prehistoric throwbacks are raised for meat to export and their skin is used by the fashion industry.
Collecting the eggs can also assist conservation efforts by helping to control unsustainably high crocodile populations.
The vast expanse of Australia’s outback means helicopters and dangling egg collectors are the only effective way to gather them – and despite the obvious risks, it’s still far safer than taking your chances with the crocs on foot.
But the demand for fresh eggs is high, and it keeps licensed egg collectors – like father-of-two Wilson – in tucker.
It also made him a sidekick star in Wright’s reality TV series Outback Wrangler, which has run for 10 years on National Geographic and is shown in 100 countries.
On Tuesday, Outback Wrangler TV star Matt Wright (centre) flew back to Darwin and presented himself to police to face a string of charges over the fatal accident which left Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson dead and Seb Robinson with potentially life-changing spinal injuries
Outback Wrangler is a hit adventure television series filmed in remote Top End locations that airs in 100 countries. Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson (centre) was one of three cast members along with Matt Wright (right) and Jono Brown (left)
On February 28, Wilson and Mr Robinson were part of a three-chopper egg hunt in the remote King River swamps of West Arnhem Land, 500km out of Darwin.
Two choppers would be the main egg-seekers, with the daredevil collectors swinging through the trees below, while the third would transport the fragile cargo.
The three Robinson R44 helicopters – each with one pilot and one collector – set off in spectacular skies just after dawn at 7.03am to fly 90 minutes to an unmanned refuelling site deep in the bush near Mount Borradaile.
There they refilled their dual fuel bladders from pre-positioned drums before flying another 20 minutes to the King River staging point, then headed off in different directions around 9am.
On February 28, Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson and Seb Robinson were part of a three-chopper egg collection expedition (map pictured) to the remote King River swamps in West Arnhem Land
Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson (pictured) was located some 40m away from the main crash scene, already dead from horrific fatal injuries
Two choppers flew 12km north-east and swooped to collect eggs from nine different nests before realising around 10.14am that the third chopper had fallen silent.
Chief helicopter pilot Michael Burbridge, 44 – director of Remote Helicopters Australia – turned back towards where Mr Robinson had been headed, 30km south of South Goulburn Island.
He spotted the wreckage of the missing chopper on the ground just 300m from the staging area where they had split up 90 minutes earlier, and immediately landed nearby.
Wilson was found some 40m away from the main crash scene, already dead from horrific fatal injuries.
Mr Robinson was seriously hurt with serious spinal injuries, lying on the ground near his aircraft, despite having been wearing his four-point harness.
The chopper was upright but badly damaged. Trees nearby showed signs of being damaged by its rotors, but there was no fire at the scene.
The chopper (pictured) was found upright but badly damaged. Trees nearby showed signs of being damaged by its rotors, but there was no fire at the scene
There was no radio reception at ground level so Mr Burbridge took-off once more so he could make radio contact with emergency services and raise the alarm.
At some point, it is alleged Outback Wrangler Matt Wright was alerted to the crash.
He operated Mr Robinson’s R44 Raven II aircraft VH-IDW through his company Helibrook.
Wright allegedly gathered off-duty Darwin police sergeant Neil Mellon as well as crocodile farmer and Darwin publican Mick Burns and flew to the scene.
Former NT Police Sergeant Neil Mellon, 47, (pictured) allegedly flew to the scene with Matt Wright and croc farmer Mick Burns
What happened next is to come before the courts, but Wright and Mellon are both accused of tampering with evidence at the crash site.
Wright was on Tuesday night charged with attempt to pervert the course of justice, destroy evidence, fabricate evidence, unlawful entry, make a false declaration, and interfering with witnesses.
Conditions of his bail, before he was to appear at Darwin Local Court at 9.30am today, included that he not contact certain people and remains at a designated address.
Mr Burbridge has been charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Mr Burns has not been charged with any offence.
Around 12.30pm a Careflight helicopter arrived to treat Mr Robinson, airlifting him out before transferring him on a plane to Darwin for specialist treatment.
The Air Transport Safety Bureau began its investigation and published initial findings in April, reporting that the chopper’s engine had stopped mid-air, sending it plummeting to the ground, with the rotors chopping at trees as it fell.
Just after they had refuelled from the drum, Wilson had sent a photograph to the group’s WhatsApp channel of his chopper’s fuel gauge, showing it was almost full, around 20 minutes before the crash.
Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson, 34, leaves behind his wife Danielle and the couple’s sons, Ted and Austin
But crash investigators drained just 250ml of fuel from the aircraft’s fuel tanks – which were both intact – and there was no fire at the crash scene nor any other obvious mechanical issues.
They allegedly could not find Wilson’s mobile phone anywhere at the scene.
Investigators said the final report will further probe ‘fuel system components, refuelling practices and fuel quality… as well as relevant maintenance records, operational documentation and regulations.’
Police will accuse Wright of regularly disconnecting the hours meter in Mr Robinson’s chopper and other helicopters used by his company, and ordered other staff to do the same, according to The Australian.
The hours meter is used in aviation to measure the time an aircraft is in use.
It’s further alleged police will say tourist pictures given to officers show the helicopter in use on days when official logs say it was idle.
Matt Wright (pictured with wife Kaia) is presented himself to a Darwin police station on Tuesday
Police have since accused Wright of going to Mr Robinson’s home and his helicopter hangar without permission after the crash, and also visiting the injured pilot as he recovered in a Brisbane hospital.
Wright is reported by The Australian to have allegedly tried to get the injured pilot to falsify flight records and delete evidence from his mobile phone.
On August 25, the first arrest in the case was made.
Mellon, 47, was arrested at Darwin Police Station when he arrived for work. Police then raided his home, allegedly finding firearms, fireworks and illegal wildlife.
The following day the father-of-three was charged with 31 offences relating to the crash.
Former NT police sergeant Neil Mellon (pictured) has been charged with a string of offences including attempting to pervert the course of justice, stealing and unlawfully accessing data
Later the same day, Mellon’s wife Sandi, another NT Police officer, unleashed more family drama when she made intimate accusations unrelated to the crash against her female former best friend in a Facebook post which was later deleted.
Mellon is understood to have since resigned from the police after 27 years in the force.
Days after Mellon’s arrest, father-of-four Wright left Darwin with his pregnant wife Kaia to relocate to the Gold Coast in Queensland.
On September 20, police made a second arrest. They charged chief helicopter pilot Burbridge – the first man to arrive at the scene of the crash.
He is accused of destroying evidence, conspiracy and attempting to pervert the course of justice, and providing a false statement.
Reality television personality Matt Wright was spotted boarding a flight to Darwin (pictured) on Tuesday morning
Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright presented himself to Northern Territory Police to face charges over a fatal helicopter crash
Matt Wright (pictured left) touched down in Darwin to present himself to police on Tuesday and his burly bodyguards barged the waiting media out the way
Nine months to the day after the crash, an arrest warrant was issued for Wright.
He was given 48 hours to present himself at Darwin police station to face charges relating to the crash.
On Tuesday, he flew back to Darwin from Sydney with his wife and newborn daughter Dusty.
Back in Darwin, friends of Mr Robinson are gathering around him to offer support as he pieces his life back together.
Friends of Seb Robinson (pictured) are gathering around him to offer support as he pieces his life back together
Just before the crash, ‘Sky Cowboy’, a documentary about his life made by his mate Kane Chenoweth was released and competed at the Port Shorts Film Festival at Port Douglas in October.
Mr Robinson left school in year 10 to get his helicopter licence and has been ‘flying on the edge of waterfalls, chasing crocs from the air and to the corners of the untouched wilderness of the NT’, the doco says.
‘Growing up in Darwin was pretty good – always in the bush doing fun stuff like going fishing and stuff like that,’ he says in the film.
‘And obviously once I eventuated to helicopters, it just made it a lot more easy.’
The film has been dedicated to his recovery, with his pals at clothing lable Ranger Outdoor designing a shirt in his name and giving all the proceeds to his rehabilitation fund.
His close friend, photographer Nick Joyce, added: ‘Sebastian Robinson is a son, a brother, a partner and a bloody good mate to many.
‘The R44 [helicopter] is an extension of his arms and feet, and he flies these machines with absolute precision and care.
‘He’s the best pilot I know, and look forward to so many more adventures together in the future.’