"excessive prosecution"

"A journalist and photographer from The Daily Telegraph were charged with tresspass after easily accessing potential terrorist sites at Sydney Airport for a story...

The paper's editor criticised the government for 'using the law to persecute journalists for providing vital information to the public's attention' after Justin Vallejo and Toby Zerna were charged with tresspass."

- PRESS FREEDOM REPORT

 
 

On a wing and a prayer

No defence against a terror attack

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By Justin Vallejo

GAPING security flaws have been exposed at Sydney Airport, with access being granted to its most sensitive areas without any background checks or security searches. The Daily Telegraph was able to gain easy and unfettered access to potential terror targets at Australia’s largest airport.

These included the airport’s 30 million litre jet fuel tanks, a number of 747 aircraft, refuelling stations, baggage cars, conveyor belts and customs areas. With only photo ID, an airport contact and a cursory glance from contract security guards, we penetrated the inner sanctum of the international airport without scrutiny of identity or motive.

There were no background and criminal history checks, no metal detectors, no bag or body searches, and no explosives or drugs dogs. The Daily Telegraph exposed the risks in the wake of the foiled terror plot to blow up New York’s JFK Airport and in the lead-up to APEC.

All it took to obtain 24-hour access was to go to the airport’s security office and have a holder of an Aviation Security Identification Card (ASIC) request a ‘‘ visitor pass ’’ . The only requirement was a driver’s licence and the pass was issued in five minutes — no questions asked.

Entering the tarmac via one of dozens of ‘‘ back door ’’ security gates, The Daily Telegraph spent more than an hour moving unhindered to and from potential terror targets. New airport staff members have the same access for a maximum three months on temporary passes until the police background checks, which take six to eight weeks, are conducted and an ASIC issued.

The condition of entry for both temporary and visitor pass holders is that they are escorted by an ASIC holder, or face a fine of just $550. Once inside it was assumed that all personnel were there for lawful reasons and there were no further challenges to their legitimacy.

The security shortcomings leave the country’s biggest airport vulnerable to terrorist attacks on a scale rivalling the recent attempt on New York’s JFK Airport. Four Muslim radicals were charged with conspiring to attack JFK airport by blowing up jet fuel supply tanks, attempting to set off a chain reaction along the network of fuel pipelines that would have killed thousands of people and destroyed the airport.

Sydney Airport’s aviation fuel pipelines also run under the airport and along the tarmac. Even without access to the tarmac, the seven aviation fuel tanks situated off Airport Drive are set back only 30m from a wire fence. A Sydney Airport spokesman said the visitor and staff passes complied with the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005.

‘‘The Australian Government and its expert security assessment agencies have determined these rules,’’ the spokesman said. On two separate occasions, The Daily Telegraph walked around the tanks for about 30 minutes without being approached by security. The Transport Workers Union’s Sam Crosby said flawed security put thousands of airport workers and passengers at risk.

 

Howard 'all talk' on air safety

By Janet Fife-Yeomans and Ian McPhedran

THE Howard Government has been accused of talking tough on national security but going soft on safeguarding the nation's airports and planes from terrorism. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd attacked the Government's double standards with a Daily Telegraph reporter and photographer facing charges for exposing security loopholes at Sydney airport.

Meanwhile the Australian Federal Police refused to reveal if they will charge Senator Bill Heffernan, a close confidant of Prime Minister John Howard. The controversial senator has confessed to going through an airport metal detector with his favourite knife, before handing it in to airport staff.

Mr Rudd said the Government was failing to act over airport security.

"Six years after September 11 and two years after the Wheeler inquiry and report, and yet we still have reports of fundamental breaches of security at airports," Mr Rudd said. "We also have reports that when it comes to cargo going on to passenger aircraft that they are not being comprehensively screened as recommended by the Wheeler report."

The scathing report on aviation security by the British expert Sir John Wheeler revealed massive safety flaws and recommended widespread action – which the Government promised but has been accused of failing to deliver.

"When it comes to national security, you can talk loud and tough as the Howard government does, but the practical detailed work on making sure our airports and airlines are properly secured, frankly is not being done," Mr Rudd said.

The whistleblower who allegedly sparked the Wheeler inquiry by leaking a report on crime at Sydney airport, former customs officer Allan Kessing, was prosecuted and given a nine-month suspended jail term last month.

Daily Telegraph reporter Justin Vallejo and photographer Toby Zerna are the latest to be told they will be charged by the AFP with trespass after their report last month exposed how vulnerable Sydney airport is to a terrorist attack in the lead-up to APEC. They revealed how easy it was to gain access to a secure area by producing nothing more than a driver's licence.

The AFP refused to comment on an investigation into Senator Heffernan, who chairs several parliamentary committees. It's an offence under aviation security laws to carry a prohibited item into an airport. Senator Heffernan refused to comment. The AFP confirmed they were reviewing a referral of an "alleged security screening issue of Monday June 25" but referred inquiries to the Department of Transport and Rural Services.

Transport Minister Mark Vaile's office referred inquiries to the AFP.

"Minister Vaile is aware that on 18 June, screening point officers at Canberra Airport had a discussion with Senator Bill Heffernan regarding a possible screening failure," a spokeswoman said. "Consistent with standard practice, the matter was reported to my department and has been referred to the Australian Federal Police for review. Questions regarding the specifics of the review should be referred to the Australian Federal Police."

 

Journalists face charges for exposing security weaknesses

Daily Telegraph reporter Justin Vallejo and photographer Toby Zerna are being charged with trespass after exposing gaping security flaws at Sydney airport as a „public service‟. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said he would not ask for the charges to be dropped, reminiscent of his stand on the Kessing case, where a Customs employee exposed similar security breaches at the same airport. The newspaper ran stories showing how they had gained easy and unfettered access to potential terror targets at Australia's largest airport: 30million-litre jet fuel tanks, a number of 747 aircraft, refuelling stations, baggage cars, conveyor belts and customs areas. With only photo ID, the pair were able to reach the sensitive locations without scrutiny of identity or motive.

 

 

Lights out on security

Hundreds board flights with no X-ray bag checks

By Justin Vallejo

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AT LEAST 200 passengers at Sydney airport were allowed onto international flights without having their baggage X-rayed or walking through metal detectors.

The airport finally admitted to the compromised security measures yesterday after originally attempting to deny anything other than normal procedures were followed. The sub-standard passenger screenings came after a power blackout at the international terminal's security check points following a sub-station fire on November 16.

During a 15 to 20 minute window, passengers were screened using only "magic wand" metal detectors and their luggage searched in the dark by hand. Security staff told The Daily Telegraph yesterday they were poking around in the dark into passenger's bags as a substitute for the X-ray machines that normally screen carry-on luggage.

"I couldn't believe what they were asking us to do," said a security guard, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Everyone was running around like headless chooks just trying to push passengers through."

The latest incident of lax security at the airport follows an investigation by The Daily Telegraph that revealed how easy it was to enter the back door without thorough background checks or security searches. A journalist and photographer will appear in court on December 17 charged with trespassing on commonwealth land and remaining in a secure area.

The airport estimated that 150 to 200 passengers were screened without the full security compliment and allowed into the international terminal during the recent lapse in security. It is not known whether any of those passengers also had to suffer the indignation of paying for a coffee at the airport, which was revealed this week as an overpriced disgrace ripping off thousands of international visitors.

When asked on Thursday afternoon about the apparent holes in security, a Sydney airport spokesman denied there had been any compromise to security.

"The security screening machines used by Sydney airport are equipped with Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) . . . used in essential applications to ensure that they are available in the event that normal power supply is interrupted," he said. "Accordingly, normal security screening procedures were followed."

But yesterday afternoon an airport spokesman admitted that security machines were unavailable and that electronic wanding of passengers and physical searching of bags had to be used in "natural light" and emergency lighting.

"This is the security practice approved by the Office of Transport Security," the spokesman said.

 

Planes off the radar as air traffic controllers take sickies

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By Justin Vallejo

A MASS sickie by air traffic controllers has left thousands of airline passengers flying blind through uncontrolled air space. Flights through northern NSW and parts of Queensland went unmonitored after five controllers called in sick on short notice over the weekend.

The blackout affected almost every major airline on Friday and Saturday, although it is understood Qantas chose not to fly through the affected areas. It comes as air traffic controllers are one of the sickest workforces in the country, with 15,700 sick days between 900 controllers last year - up to four times the national average.

By law, controllers are not able to work if they even have a head cold or anything that could affect performance.

"This has been happening with more and more frequency," said Robert Mason, president of the controllers union Civil Air, yesterday. "We've been short staffed for a long time and it's very difficult to get people into the job. The problem is not so much people calling in sick it's the availability of people to come in and cover them."

On Friday three controllers covering the Tops East airspace in Queensland called in sick, leaving the sectors unmonitored between 3pm and 9pm. Fourteen air traffic controllers on rostered days off were contacted but none could cover the holes.

On Saturday, another two staff covering two east coast sectors, stretching north from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour and west from the Hunter to Armidale and the state's western border, called in sick.

When the areas cannot be monitored due to staff shortages or technical failures, Airservices Australia issues a Traffic Information Broadcast by Aircraft (TIBA) notice. It is up to individual airlines to decide whether it is safe to fly though the sectors, relying on their own broadcasts and instruments to avoid collisions. That basically consists of pilots broadcasting their position and direction and leaving it up to pilots not to crash into each other.

Airlines with flights affected included Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Blue, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific. It is understood RAAF Williamtown, north of Newcastle, was also affected. Australian and International Pilots Association president Ian Woods said the TIBA system was totally unfit for the safety of pilots and passengers.

"Did the airlines that operated through these blind spots do a risk analysis on a mid-air collision? I bet they didn't," Mr Woods said. "This can't go on, we either stand up for safety or we don't."

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said the situation is managed in the safest way by Airservices Australia. Airservices is in pay negotiations with Civil Air, which wants increases of between 40 and 60 per cent.

 

Qantas jet piggybacks Pacific, flying with Air NZ jumbo

By Justin Vallejo

A QANTAS flight was forced to "piggyback" an Air New Zealand plane and divert to Auckland after its weather antenna stopped working three hours out of Los Angeles. It was one of two incidents involving Qantas jets yesterday. Passengers on board flight QF12 awoke to a high-altitude dawn with a close-up view of the Air New Zealand jet off the left wing.

A Qantas spokesman said passengers were not in danger and the flight continued in safety to New Zealand.

"The weather antenna wasn't working to (the pilots') full satisfaction," the spokesman said. "They chose the safest option to divert to Auckland. The aircraft were vertically separated at all times and governed by air traffic control."

The Air New Zealand flight was 35km away from the Qantas plane when the captain made radio contact asking for assistance. The two planes came within a couple of thousand feet of each other as weather updates from the Air New Zealand flight were relayed to the Qantas plane.

Also yesterday, a Qantas flight bound for Sydney was forced to return to Melbourne after a landing-gear fault indicator lit up. A Qantas spokesman said Flight 434 had "only just left" Melbourne when it received a landing gear warning.

"There may have been a problem with the landing gear," the spokesman said. "We don't actually believe it was, but we decided it was, obviously, the most prudent thing to do, to return immediately to Melbourne."

Meanwhile, Qantas yesterday blamed Airbus for an October 7 incident in which 70 passengers were injured after a Perth-bound A330 jet plunged unexpectedly above the West Australian coast.

Geoff Dixon, the airline's outgoing chief executive, said investigators were focusing on a design problem and it was "an issue for the manufacturer, Airbus".

His comments contrast with initial findings released by both Airbus and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau which blamed the problem on an inflight data recorder linked to the auto pilot system.

The bureau yesterday released its findings into a near miss between two planes over Princess Charlotte Bay in far north Queensland last year. The planes came within 30m of each other because a pilot was distracted with paperwork about engine performance, the bureau found.
 

Qantas Melbourne-Sydney flight 434 in landing gear drama

By Justin Vallejo

A QANTAS 767 bound for Sydney was forced to turn back to Melbourne Airport with landing gear problems this afternoon.

Officials said Qantas flight 434 landed safely without incident just before 2.15pm after the pilot decided to turn the craft back to Melbourne Airport. The plane took off from the Tullamarine airport about 1.20pm. It is understood the drama began when an “unsafe gear” warning sign was triggered, prompting the crew to take precautionary action.

The latest problem for Qantas follows reports today a Qantas flight was forced to "piggyback" an Air New Zealand plane and divert to Auckland after its weather antenna stopped working three hours out of Los Angeles. Over 280 passengers on board flight QF 12 arrived in Sydney four hours late today after repairs to the aircraft in New Zealand. In a rare and extraordinary sight, passengers earlier awoke to a high-altitude dawn with a close-up view of the Air New Zealand jet off their left wing.

A Qantas spokesman said passengers were not in danger and the flight continued in safety to New Zealand.

"The weather antenna wasn't working to their full satisfaction,'' the spokesman said. "They chose the safest option to divert to Auckland, which had preferable weather to other diversion options, coupled with the fact the Air New Zealand plane was there to provide guidance. The aircraft were vertically separated at all time and governed by air traffic control.''

The Air New Zealand flight was 35 kilometres away from the Qantas plane when the captain made radio contact asking for assistance. The two plans came within a couple of thousand feet of each other as weather updates from the Air New Zealand flight were relayed across radio to the Qantas plane. In the time it took to arrive in Auckland, a replacement antenna was flown across the ditch from Sydney and used to repair the faulty antenna when it landed this morning. With repairs complete, it arrived in Sydney shortly before midday today.

The Qantas spokesman said the exact cause of the faulty weather antenna was not yet known.

Today's events are the latest in a string of incidents for the Australian airline which began in July when a Melbourne-bound Qantas flight from London via Hong Kong was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila after a faulty oxygen bottle exploded mid-flight.

Four days later, a domestic flight returned to Adelaide after a wheel-bay door failed to close. And on August 2, a 767 flight turned back for an emergency landing at Sydney airport after a hydraulic fluid leak.

Earlier this month up to 70 people were injured when a Qantas flight from Singapore to Perth plunged 350ft in mid-air over Western Australia.

 

Cigarette smuggling hits all-time high

By Justin Vallejo

INTERNATIONAL flight crews bringing illegal cigarettes through Sydney Airport were part of a major spike in Australia's tobacco black market.

Desperate attempts to avoid high tax rates were placing unregulated tobacco products - often containing contaminates such as rat droppings and metal shavings - for sale under-the-counter at general stores across Sydney.

Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph revealed customs detected 11 shipments of illicit tobacco products comprising 65 tonnes of leaf and 22 million cigarettes during the first three months of this year - an attempted tax evasion of more than $27 million.

That was already more than half the $50 million worth of possible tax evasion from seizures in all of 2008. Customs national investigations manager Richard Janeczko said smugglers were going to extreme lengths.

"Anything from airline crews bringing them in, people trying to order them in on the internet, or full container loads disguised as things like pretzels," he said. "But the big smuggling is done by full container load - you're talking $4-$6 million dollars in revenue foregone in every one that's gone through."

In July, Customs arrested four men over an attempt to smuggle more than 4.8 tonnes of tobacco into Australia from Lebanon concealed within plastic tubs.

"Most of the illegal stuff is made in unregulated factories," Mr Janeczko said. "So you can't be sure exactly what's in them."

 

Pilot killed in mid-air collision over Sydney loved to fly

By Justin Vallejo

A YOUNG pilot killed after a mid-air collision in Sydney had recently graduated as a Grade 3 flight instructor.

Joanne Ethell studied at Cessnock-based Hunter Valley Aviation, from where she graduated earlier this year before joining its sister company Basair Aviation just three months ago.

Her Lismore-based parents were last night too devastated to speak about the loss of their daughter, who was well-known for her love of flying. Ms Ethell and a female trainee were on board the Cessna 152 when it collided with a Liberty XL-2, 508m above the Sydney suburb of Casula.

At the controls of the doomed plane was young Indian national Chandrika Gaur, who had only been in Australia for about four months. The daughter of an Indian doctor had enjoyed a coffee at the Flyers Cafe at Bankstown Airport before embarking on her lesson. Cafe owner Eddy Omeissah last night told The Daily Telegraph the 18-year-old was excited about flying after finally securing a training time.

In the Liberty XL-2 was 89-year-old World War II Spitfire pilot Ken Andrews and his 25-year-old Indian student.

As the planes each made their final approach to Bankstown Airport, their path across the uncontrolled airspace was picked up by a website's tracking radar. At 11.30am, with both planes at 508m above Casula's Flame Tree St, one of the lines of green on the website simply vanishes as the planes collides, sending the Cessna spiralling to the ground.

"The tail was hanging off the back," a witness driving along the nearby M5 said.

On the ground there was a scene of devastation as the single-engine Cessna slammed into the rear of the home of Bianca and Steven Condina and their two-week-old son Aidan. Thankfully no one was home. After the crash came the silence as Zachariah Jida ran towards the mangled wreck.

"I saw people there so I had to help them," Mr Jida said. "There was petrol leaking but I needed to help." He tried to push through the plane's shattered metal but reeled back in pain. "It was too hot to touch, there was no fire or anything but I couldn't touch it," he said. Another resident, a nurse, then arrived.

"She went and checked on the lady we could see and she said, 'she's gone'," Mr Jida said. The nurse then went to leave but Mr Jida searched the wreck and saw another female. "I yelled at the lady, 'there's another one here". She checked her and said 'this one is gone too'."

Ms Ethell and her student, both believed to be in their 20s, and from the Bankstown-based Basair Aviation College, were dead. But the toll could have have been higher, with ground zero just around the corner from Casula High School and the Maple Grove Retirement Village.

Ms Condina had left her Flame Tree St home to take her Aidan to see Santa for the first time at Liverpool Westfield. Her father, Gino Valerio, was on his way to the house when the plane crashed into the back veranda.

"I'm counting my blessings," he said. "We were on our way to work in the backyard to fix some pavings. She (Bianca) is just happy to be alive."

In the moments after the collision, Mr Andrews and his student issued a mayday call and made an emergency landing at Bankstown Airport some 10km away with minor damage to the Liberty's port wing the only sign of the collision.

It is understood the student is a new recruit to the Bankstown-based Sydney Flight Training Centre, who only recently arrived from India to undertake the final stages of pilot training. It is believed both planes were returning to Bankstown after separate training exercises. Both had used Casula's ABC radio tower as the visual marker for their final approach.

Airservices Australia spokesman Rob Walker said the planes were flying in uncontrolled airspace and it was up to the pilots - who have a common radio frequency but no radar - to watch for other planes approaching the same marker. "If it's in uncontrolled airspace the onus is on the pilots to look out and be aware, to self-separate," Mr Walker said.

Sydney Flight Training Centre trainee Harshad Chavan, who has been with the school for 16 months, said Mr Andrews was highly regarded and only brought in to test the most senior level pilot accreditation.

"He's not an instructor as such. If there is an important flight he's brought in," he said.

At Basair Aviation College, instructor Darren Ward said the death of their colleagues, had left everyone "very upset and very, very distressed".

"There's nothing worse, nothing worse, of course, in aviation," he said of hearing of colleagues' death.

 

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's final resting place found

Resting place may have been found Plane in "seabed off Burmese coast" Wreckage believed to be well preserved

By Justin Vallejo

IT is one of Australia's oldest mysteries and greatest legends. There's the war hero and adventurer, the world record attempt, the sudden disappearance and the small clues hinting, whispering, of their tragic end. But after almost 75 years of intrigue, the final resting place of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith may have been found by a Sydney film crew, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The wreckage is believed to be incredibly well preserved beneath a layer of mud off the Burmese coast, giving hope to the aviator's family that his remains and artefacts will finally complete their voyage home. 

Filmmaker Damien Lay said he was "100 per cent" certain that the grainy black and white sonar images of seabed near Aye Island, in the Bay of Bengal, shows Sir Charles' plane the Lady Southern Cross. But it was Mr Lay who in 2005 claimed the Japanese midget submarine that went missing after a raid on Sydney Harbour was resting near Broken Bay. Divers found it the next year 5km off the Northern Beaches. 

"To me it's 100 per cent proof positive," Mr Lay said. "The critical pieces of evidence are three equilateral triangles contained within what I believe is the starboard wing. These structures don't occur in nature and they measure exactly 1.5mx1.5mx1.5m. We know those are the dimensions in which these aircraft were manufactured." 

The images were taken during filming of Mr Lay's documentary The Last Anzac on February 23 and 24, with divers sent down on February 25 to find a layer of mud. Mr Lay will take images to the aircraft manufacturers Lockheed Martin in the US to analyse the images before organising a salvage mission. 

"We had very long discussions about it and both families are absolutely adamant they would like not only the aircraft recovered but also the remains, if they exist, and returned to Australia," Mr Lay said. 

Sir Charles, co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge and their Lockheed Altair aircraft went missing in 1935 during an attempt to break the England-Australia speed record. They departed Allahabad, in India, on their way to Singapore before the final leg to Australia. Their last recorded position was over Rangoon at 1.30am on November 7, 1935. It wasn't until 1937 that a fisherman found its starboard undercarriage leg on Aye Island, south of Rangoon. 

Mr Lay would not reveal the latitude and longitude of the find. 

"What we're going to see is an incredibly tragic yet heroic ending to these men's incredible lives. It's an enormous find in terms of our history and shows how incredibly wrong the official history has been," he said. 

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