Australian animal catcher Matt Wright, who stars in Netflix's Wild Croc Territory, was charged in connection with a February helicopter crash that killed his friend, Chris "Willow" Wilson. Police in Darwin said Wright, 43, was involved in an alleged conspiracy to cover up evidence linked to the crash. Wright has denied any wrongdoing.
Wilson, who also stars on Outback Wrangler with Wright, was on a crocodile egg-collecting expedition in a remote area of West Arnhem Land on Feb. 28. He was dangling from a sling when the helicopter crashed, reports News.com.au. On Nov. 30, Wright was in Darwin Local Court to face seven charges, including attempting to pervert the course of justice, destroying evidence, and fabricating evidence. He also faces charges of "unlawfully entering a building, unlawfully entering a dwelling, and making a false declaration." Police also accused him of interfering with witnesses.
During the Nov. 30 court hearing, Wright's attorney asked judge John Neill to make more changes to his bail conditions. The changes included paying a security team and an own recognizance agreement. Wright was previously banned from contacting certain people and told he could only live at one address. Two other people were charged in connection with the crash, pilot Michael Keith Burbidge and former Acting Senior Sergeant Neil Ryan Mellon. Another hearing was scheduled for Jan. 25.
Wright's lawyer David Newey told the press outside the courtroom that his client denies the allegations. "He is disappointed that charges have been laid over what was a tragic accident that took the life of Matt's closest friend, Chris Wilson," Newey said. "Regulatory investigations have found no defect in the helicopter engine. The aircraft was flown following an inspection from independent aviation experts. A few weeks before they cleared the helicopter to fly."
In an interview with Australia's Sunday Telegraph, Wright again denied the allegations and said he flew in the helicopter with his family just days before the crash. "It's been an extremely tough time on everyone ... Obviously, though, it's hardest on Willow's family. The worst part of all of this is losing Willow," Wright said, via News.com.au. "It's also difficult to see it being made out that safety isn't a priority for us."
Wright said he left his helicopter business because his bail conditions made it difficult to contact his colleagues. However, Wright vowed to resume his touring business. "I look forward to clearing my name and returning to doing what I love best, ensuring people get to experience and understand the true and special nature of crocodiles and the Northern Territory," he said.
Many of the details of the crash are still unknown, notes Australia's ABC News. During the trip to collect crocodile eggs, Wilson was hanging several meters below from the helicopter in a "sling," which can be used to access crocodile nests from above. Two other helicopters in the same area noticed that they had not heard from Wilson's helicopter. The crash site was later discovered and Wilson was found 40 meters away. Pilot Sebastian Robinson also suffered injuries in the crash. It took hours for police to find the crash site via boat. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau's investigation found that the engine stopped before the crash, but could not find any defects.
Wright and Wilson both starred in Outback Wrangler, which was produced by National Geographic and aired between 2011 and 2020. They also worked together on Wild Croc Territory, which Netflix released in October. Wright told Express in early November that a second season was in the works, but Netflix never officially announced this.