Outback Wrangler Matt Wright arrives at court
Outback Wrangler Matt Wright will stand trial accused of perverting the course of justice. Image by Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Outback Wrangler to face trial over fatal chopper crash

Neve Brissenden December 7, 2023

Outback Wrangler host Matt Wright will head to trial next year, accused of perverting the course of justice following a chopper crash that killed his reality TV co-star.

Chris Wilson, 34, plunged to his death in a remote area of the Northern Territory in February last year while attached to a helicopter owned by Wright.

Wright and his pilot Michael Burbidge went to the scene of the crash, accompanied by former senior NT police officer Neil Mellon.

Pilot Michael Burbidge arrives at court
 Michael Burbidge pleaded guilty to destroying evidence and had three other charges withdrawn. Image by Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS 

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

Wright appeared in Darwin Local Court on Thursday, with NT prosecutor Steve Ledek saying the DPP was ready to go to trial on one of the seven charges.

Wright sat at the front of the court with his wife as his lawyer Greg Jones told Deputy Chief Judge Tanya Fong Lim an application to call witnesses would be withdrawn.

He will face the NT Supreme Court on January 18 on one count of perverting the course of justice.

The other six charges, which include tampering with evidence and threatening pilot Sebastian Robinson who was critically injured in the crash, have been moved to June.

Wright said he looked forward to the other charges being dropped.

“I’m hopeful the remaining charges will all be withdrawn once this charge is dealt with next year,” he said in a statement.

Burbidge, who was facing four charges, pleaded guilty to destroying evidence and had the other three charges withdrawn.

He will be sentenced on February 29.

Nigel Scullion arrives at court with Neil Mellon (right)
 Ex-Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion (left) accompanied Neil Mellon to court. Image by Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS 

Mellon pleaded guilty to destroying evidence, formally admitting to destroying a mobile phone on the day Mr Wilson was killed.

He pleaded guilty to knowing the phone might be required in court and destroying it so it could not be used in evidence.

He is set to be sentenced on March 1.

Mellon faces a slew of other charges including disclosing confidential information, obtaining benefit by deception, carrying a prohibited weapon, stealing, possessing a protected animal and possessing illegal fireworks.

Those charges will be back at Darwin Local Court on February 5.

The facts regarding the specifics of the charges facing the trio, including what evidence may have been tampered with, have been suppressed.

The three men, who all remain on bail, arrived at court at different times on Thursday morning and were silent when questioned by a large media scrum outside.

Former federal Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion accompanied Mellon to court and appeared to get in a scuffle with A Current Affair reporter Steve Marshall as the group left the building.

The ex-CLP senator allegedly pushed Marshall against a vehicle he was trying to get into, before eventually slamming the door shut.

Reporter Steve Marshall confronts Nigel Scullion (right)
 Nigel Scullion (right) appeared to get in a scuffle with ACA reporter Steve Marshall (centre). Image by Neve Brissenden/AAP PHOTOS 

“Hey, someone’s died here,” Marshall yelled before the car sped off.

Earlier this week, Mr Wilson’s widow filed papers to sue Wright’s helicopter company and the aviation regulator after an investigation report made damning findings.

The Air Transport Safety Safety Bureau investigation found the Civil Aviation Safety Authority granted Helibrook an exemption to collect crocodile eggs using slings that were otherwise banned.

By 2017, most safety conditions limiting height, speed and exposure were removed by CASA, meaning Mr Wilson could be attached to the helicopter up to 30 metres.

The ATSB also made findings against Wright, with the report saying his helicopter company had a “long history of noncompliance” and the chopper had several engine defects.

The civil charges in the Federal Court will likely not be heard until next year.

Outback Wrangler was an adventure TV series filmed in remote Top End locations that aired in more than 90 countries.