Ex-NT police officer Neil Mellon ‘likely’ to enter plea over investigation into chopper crash that killed Chris ‘Willow’ Wilson

A former Northern Territory police officer is on trial on charges related 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 arriving for work late last month and charged with more than 30 felonies.

A second man, helicopter pilot Michael Burbidge, was charged this week with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the February crash investigation in western Arnhem Land, 500 kilometers east of Darwin.

On Friday, Mr Mellon’s lawyer told the Darwin Magistrates’ Court that he was seeking an early hearing and a speedy settlement of the matter.

“I suggest filing an indictment and bringing the matter to trial the week of October 3,” Julie Franz said.

A smiling man sitting on the rung of a helicopter in the grasslands wearing a trucker hat and light blue farm hand shirt.
Chris “Willow” Wilson, 34, was a popular crocodile wrangler and remembered as a devoted family man. (delivered)

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

Previous charges, including destruction of evidence and attempting to pervert the legal process, were not included in the court list.

When asked whether those charges had been dropped, the chief prosecutor’s office said it declined to “comment.”

The NT police also refused to clarify this.

The sign outside Darwin Magistrates' Court.  Picture taken on June 22, 2021.
Prosecutors declined to say whether two of the more serious charges against Mr Mellon had been dropped.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

The former guard commander and head of the Territory Response Group (TRG) is charged with a range of weapons, firearms, fireworks and wildlife offences.

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

“There is a wide range of offenses that range from potentially three to ten years [jail],” he said.

Mr Ledek told the court that some of the matters may need to go before the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

The matter was adjourned until October 5, with Mr Mellon being excused from appearing in person and his bail continuing.

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

The chopper crash is still under investigation by several authorities

The accident, which happened on what was believed to be a routine crocodile egg harvest along the King River, is now the subject of investigations by police, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and NT WorkSafe.

The ATSB released a preliminary report in April saying initial assessments indicated the engine was stopped before the helicopter struck the ground.

Helicopter Crash Site
A preliminary ATSB investigation has found no defects that could have caused engine failure prior to the crash.(Included in delivery: Careflight)

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

The report also noted that the helicopter did not have any defects that would cause an 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 for harvesting operations without additional compliance testing due to “a serious risk to health and safety.”

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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