Pilot John Crumpton leaving Lismore court with his wife Leanne after an eight-day District Court trial in February.
Pilot John Crumpton leaving Lismore court with his wife Leanne after an eight-day District Court trial in February. Photo: Rodney Stevens

Pilot faces jail term after 11yo girl's death in plane crash

A PILOT who received a suspended sentence after a girl died when he flew his plane into powerlines and crashed into the Clarence River is now facing a two-year jail term.

John Patrick Crumpton was acquitted of manslaughter but convicted of reckless flying after 11-year-old Kayla Whitten was killed at Ewingar in 2014.

Sydney Appeals Court Justice David Davies found Crumpton's original 15-month suspended sentence did not match the seriousness of the offence, despite the toll the girl's death had also taken on his life.

The pilot left Casino Airport about 7.20am on April 12, 2014 and flew to Lismore Airport to refuel, where he picked up his friend David Whitten and his daughter, Kayla.

He was flying too low about 16 to 25 metres over the Clarence River when the small plane hit power cables, stalled and crashed upside down into the water.

Crumpton and Mr Whitten managed to free themselves and made several attempts to remove Kayla.

Eventually she was pulled from the upturned fuselage, but Mr Whitten's attempts to resuscitate his daughter failed.

An injured Crumpton walked about four kilometres in search of help.

An autopsy found the girl had died from a cervical spine injury, not drowning.

Justice Davies said Mr Whitten suffered cuts, burns, fractured shoulder and fractured vertebrae that still caused him severe back pain.

Mr Whitten told the court the plane was taking tight bends before the crash and at one stage it seemed like the wing tip was only metres off the water.

The resident of a nearby property estimated the plane was flying about six to nine metres above the water, although Crumpton said he could not have been that low.

"I couldn't tell you how, exactly how many feet, I was flying off the water," Crumpton told police.

"I know it was around treetop height... between 50 and 150 feet, just depends how high the trees are."

He said he knew the restriction on flying over land and over villages was 1500 feet, and 500 feet over water.

The court heard Crumpton had suffered depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and was "extremely remorseful".

Justice Davies, sitting in the appeals court alongside Justices Peter Garling and Margaret Beazley, deemed the original 15-month suspended sentence to be "manifestly inadequate".

He sentenced Crumpton to two-years' jail, to be served in the community under the strict supervision of an intensive correction order if assessed as suitable.

Justice Davies noted Crumpton had paid more than $300,000 to Mr Whitten despite the fact the man was already suing him for nervous shock.

He found the sentencing judge appeared to have confused specific deterrence with general deterrence; a particularly important consideration when dealing with dangerous flying.

"The Crown submitted that there was a significant body of evidence before the sentencing judge that low flying was a highly dangerous activity and of the high prevalence of wire-strike aviation accidents," Justice Davies said.

"In my opinion, general deterrence is a significant matter where an offence is committed in relation to the flying of an aircraft."