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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 22017


Mr Price asked the Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 3 June 2003:

(1) Was a Board of Inquiry (BOI) constituted to inquire into the 3 deaths of members of the Army Alpine Club that died climbing Mt Everest; if so, (a) when, (b) who constituted the BOI, (c) who was the appointing Authority, (d) what were the Terms of Reference, (e) how many days has the BOI sat, (f) when is the BOI expected to deliver its final report, and (g) will the report be made public.

(2) Have the next of kin been offered legal representation consistent with the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in its report into Military Justice Procedures.

(3) To date, what are the individual costs, emoluments and disbursements involved in the BOI.

(4) What is the anticipated final cost of the BOI.


Mr Brough (Minister for Employment Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) A Board of Inquiry (BOI) was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into the Army Alpine Association's conduct of Exercise EVEREST 2001 concerning the incident resulting in the deaths of Squadron Leader P Szypula, Flight Sergeant M Hackett and Ms K Hackett at the Modi Khola area near Deurali, Central Nepal on 24 March 2001 and the circumstances surrounding it.

(a) The BOI was appointed on 27 June 2001.

(b) On 27 June 2001, the BOI was constituted by Colonel J H Snare, Lieutenant Colonel S Neuhaus, and Squadron Leader T Higgs. On 4 September 2001, the Appointing Authority in an Instrument of Variation revoked the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel S Neuhaus and appointed Lieutenant Colonel M F Donaghue in his place. When the BOI was constituted, Colonel J H Snare was appointed the President of the BOI. Captain M Hall was appointed Secretary to the BOI, and Lieutent Colonel G Cameron and Captain D Spendelove were appointed Counsel Assisting to assist the BOI.

(c) The Appointing Authority for the BOI was Major General P F Leahy, then Deputy Chief of Army and Delegate of the Chief of Army.

(d) The Terms of Reference of the BOI are as follows:

(1) Pursuant to the appointment of a Board of Inquiry, you are to assemble at Victoria Barracks, Land Headquarters (Court Room), at a time and date as determined by the President and at such other places and times as the President may direct for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting on the following matter concerning the Army, namely:

The Army Alpine Association's conduct of Exercise EVEREST 2001 concerning the incident resulting in the presumed death of Squadron Leader P Szypula and deaths of Flight Sergeant M Hackett and Ms K C Hackett at the Modi Khola area near Deurali, Central Nepal on 24 March 2001 and the circumstances surrounding it.

(2) As part of your inquiry, you are to receive evidence and report on the following matters:

(a) General Details:

(1) the date, time and place of the incident;

(2) how the incident occurred and the circumstances surrounding it;

(3) the identity and Service particulars (if applicable) of all persons involved in the incident and the activities being undertaken;

(4) the activity being conducted by Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett and the other Members of the Army Alpine Association participation in Exercise EVEREST 2001 prior to and at the time of the incident;

(5) the cause or causes of the incident;

(6) the date, time and place of presumed death of Squadron Leader Szypula, and deaths of Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett;

(7) the presumed death of Squadron Leader Szypula, and cause of deaths of Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett;

(8) whether Squadron Leader Szypula and Flight Sergeant Hackett were on duty and, if so, the specific type of duty being performed at the time of the incident, or if not on duty, the status of the member at the time of the incident;

(9) the status of Ms K C Hackett at the time of the incident;

(10) whether Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett were Army approved participants in Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(11) the details of any injury (including nervous shock) suffered by any person as a consequence of the incident (including any search and rescue activities), the cause or causes of those injuries and the identity of the persons concerned;

(12) whether any person killed or injured was, at the time of the incident, employed on Continuous Full Time Duty as a member of the Australian Defence Force and was a contributor under the Defence Force Retirement and Deaths Benefits Act 1973 or the Military Superannuation and Benefits Act 1991;

(13) whether Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett or the next of kin of Ms K C Hackett had travel insurance at the time of the incident and, if so, the details of such insurance;

(14) detail whether there was any medical support provided to Exercise EVEREST 2001 participants (approved and non-approved) and if so, the adequacy of such support;

(15) whether the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 (the Act) applied or a duty of care was owed to any person:

(a) generally for the conduct of Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(b) specifically at the time and location of the incident;

(c) if the provisions of the Act applied, whether the Commonwealth complied with its obligations under the Act;

(d) if a duty of care was owed to any person, whether the Commonwealth complied with its obligations.

(b) Pre-Incident Situation:

(1) whether Exercise EVEREST 2001 was an Army approved activity and, if so, detail the approval process and the Approving Authority for the Exercise;

(2) detail the command and control arrangements for Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(3) the selection process applied for participating personnel and support staff for Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(4) whether all persons participating in Exercise EVEREST 2001 were formally authorised to do so by a competent authority;

(5) if any participant was not formally authorised by a competent authority to participate in Exercise EVEREST 2001, detail the circumstances surrounding their purported authorisation;

(6) whether a risk assessment and risk analysis was undertaken prior to the incident and, if so, the adequacy of the risk assessment and risk analysis;

(7) the adequacy of briefings relevant to the risk assessment and risk analysis;

(8) whether the Exercise EVEREST 2001 Mounting Instruction, risk assessment and risk analysis and associated documents and briefings were adequately reviewed by appropriate authorities;

(9) the adequacy of briefings, orders, safety procedures and communications relevant to Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(10) the training regime for all participants in Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(11) whether there was any training inadequacy of any individual participating in Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(12) the qualifications, currency of qualifications, training, experience and medical fitness of all persons participating in Exercise EVEREST 2001;

(13) the physical condition of all persons participating in Exercise EVEREST 2001 immediately prior to the incident;

(14) whether Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett were advised or assisted by a guide, or assisted by a porter, prior to the incident.

(c) The Incident:

(1) whether the details or presumed deaths were caused or partly caused by:

(a) environmental factors;

(b) any deficiency in the process of risk assessment or risk analysis;

(c) any member being under the influence of drugs or alcohol;

(d) any deficiency or malfunction of protective clothing or equipment;

(e) non-compliance with orders, instructions or safety procedures;

(f) any training inadequacy of any person;

(g) any lack of supervision or advice; or

(h) any other weakness in the system or method of control.

(d) Post-Incident Situation:

(1) the actions taken by individuals after the incident concerning emergency rescue and the suitability and adequacy of such action;

(2) whether the post-incident procedures were appropriate, including:

(a) reporting of the incident, including notification to next of kin;

(b) whether trauma debriefing and counselling or other support was provided to Exercise EVEREST 2001 participants and the next of kin of Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett and Ms K C Hackett;

(3) whether the risk assessment or risk analysis of Exercise EVEREST 2001 was reviewed or modified following the incident and, if so, to what extent;

(4) whether any medical or repatriation expenses relevant to Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett or Ms K C Hackett have been incurred and liability for such expense;

(5) with respect to a deceased member:

(a) whether the details or the deceased member have been formally reported and recorded;

(c) whether the dependants or next of kin of a deceased member have been advised of criteria for eligibility and rights to submit a claim for comp-ensation in accordance with relevant legislation and Defence instructions;

(d) whether there is any outstanding action required to facilitate a claim for compensation;

(e) whether all personal effects that were discovered during search and rescue activities have been returned to respective next of kin;

(6) whether any military members or civilians have or are likely to have any claim for compensation, damages or reimbursement of expenses from the Common-wealth;

(7) whether a claim for compensation from the Commonwealth has been submitt-ed by or on behalf of the dependants or next of kin of Squadron Leader Szypula, Flight Sergeant Hackett, or next of kin of Ms K C Hackett and, if so, whether such a claim is being considered in a timely manner;

(8) whether the repatriation of deceased persons to Australia has occurred and, if so, whether the process was satisfactory and timely.

(e) Ancillary Matters:

(1) The Board is to take evidence from any person or persons who are able to give material information as to the date, time, place, and circumstances of the incident and state the reason if the Board is unable to obtain evidence from any person involved in the incident;

(2) The Board is to make recommendations upon, inter alia, the following:

(a) whether any immediate action is required to prevent a recurrence of the incident, or to reduce the probability of another incident occurring whilst undertaking similar activities;

(b) actions which should be taken to prevent a recurrence of the incident, or to reduce the probability of another incident occurring whilst undertaking similar activities;

(c) whether the conduct of any member warrants investigation by Service or civilian police; and

(d) actions which should be taken to eliminate any inadequacies of equipment, training, orders, instructions, publications or procedures revealed in the course of the inquiry which the Board considers should be subject to action by the Appointing Authority.

(3) The following documents are to be attached to your report:

(a) a transcript of all evidence taken during the course of the inquiry;

(b) statements and records of interview of all relevant witnesses and where relevant English translation of witness statements and other relevant documents;

(c) a copy of any relevant post mortem examination report;

(d) copy of any police report relevant to the incident;

(e) copies of all relevant orders, instructions, and directions;

(f) extracts from all relevant publications;

(g) as appropriate, photographs, maps and scale diagrams of the scene of the incident;

(h) a copy of the Quick Assessment; and

(i) these Terms of Reference.

(4) You are to complete your report by 31 August 2001 or if Completion is delayed, submit an interim report on that date and each 28 days thereafter until the report is complete.

(e) The Board sat for 70 hearing days.

(f) The BOI delivered its final report on 4 September 2002.

(g) It is intended that a version of the report, with privacy deletions, will soon be available for release to the public upon request.

(2) Yes. Legal representation is provided to persons identified as `affected persons'. The next of kin were not identified as affected persons, but the deceased were. Legal representation was therefore provided to represent the interests of the deceased. The Counsel representing the deceased took instructions from the next of kin, but the Counsel represented the interests of the deceased.

(3) The majority of the costs to date are $633,534.63. This is comprised of the following:

Reserve Legal counsel

$485,692.00

Legal reports

$13,065.00

Court transcription

$134,717.63

$633,534.63

(4) The final cost is not readily available, but the majority of the costs are indicated in part (3) above.