Matt Wright co-accused convicted for destroying phone

Neve Brissenden |

Michael Burbidge has been convicted and fined for destroying a dead pilot’s phone.
Michael Burbidge has been convicted and fined for destroying a dead pilot’s phone.

A man who destroyed the mobile phone of a Netflix series co-star after he was killed in a helicopter crash has been convicted and fined.

Chris Wilson plunged to his death in a remote area of the Northern Territory in February 2022 while attached to a helicopter owned by Outback Wrangler star Matt Wright and being flown by pilot Sebastian Robinson.

Wilson’s friend and revered NT pilot, Michael Burbidge, was first on the scene of the crash and later joined by Wright and former senior NT police officer Neil Mellon.

The three men were all later charged with perverting the course of justice and destroying evidence.

Pilot Michael Burbidge arrives at court with his legal team
Burbidge (2nd right) pleaded guilty to the destruction of Mr Wilson’s mobile phone. (Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS)

Burbidge pleaded guilty to the destruction of Mr Wilson’s mobile phone.

The former pilot was formally convicted on Friday and fined $15,000 in Darwin Local Court.

In sentencing him, Judge Tanya Fong Lim said he could not be held responsible for Mr Wilson’s death.

“The charge is not a charge which finds him responsible for his death, it is not a charge that he contributed to his death,” she said.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation found the chopper’s engine stopped mid-flight due to a lack of fuel and during the emergency landing, Mr Robinson released its hooks and sling line before crashing to the ground.

She said the destroyed phone “may have been a very important piece of evidence”.

Burbidge said he and Mellon discussed destroying the phone to protect Mr Wilson and his wife’s reputation.

“He claims he destroyed the phone out of loyalty to his friend,” Judge Fong Lim said.

“There is nothing in the agreed facts which confirm what was on the phone that Mr Wilson needed protection from.”

Prosecutor Steven Ledeck argued for a prison sentence, saying the destruction of the phone must have consequences.

“Nobody can say for certain what was on that phone, no one can say for certain what it could have proved,” he said in sentencing submissions.

“That phone represented so much more than evidence it represented a person’s life, in addition to flight recording information.” 

Burbidge’s lawyer Matthew Johnston earlier argued he was remorseful for his actions and should not have a conviction recorded.

Matt Wright arrives at court to support pilot Michael Burbidge
Wright attended Darwin Local Court in a show of support. (Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS)

“This conduct was an error of judgment that occurred at the end of a very long, stressful and emotionally taxing day,” Mr Johnston said.

“On that day he performed some difficult if not traumatic things, having to deal with the crash, render first aid to Mr Robinson and having to ensure the body of Mr Wilson was protected.”

Burbidge wrote a letter to the court, saying he was “deeply remorseful” and apologising to Mr Wilson’s family.

Mr Wilson’s family also wrote a statement in support of Burbidge, saying they “entrust the court to do what is just and fair”.

Wright attended Darwin Local Court in a show of support.

In February Wright and his aviation company were hit with a suite of new WorkSafe charges over the crash, as he prepares to fight criminal and civil charges later this year.

Wright will go to trial in the NT Supreme Court on one count of perverting the course of justice.

Another six charges, which include tampering with evidence and threatening pilot Mr Robinson, are yet to be heard though Wright denies any allegations of wrongdoing.

He is also facing a civil case, filed by Mr Wilson’s widow Danielle Wilson.

Ms Wilson is suing Wright and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) for alleged “wrongful acts or omissions” that caused or contributed to her husband’s death, Federal Court documents provided to AAP have revealed.

She is seeking costs, damages, interest, interest on costs, and “such other order as the court sees fit” for the psychological harm caused by the conduct.