A young woman has been awarded $1.5 million in damages after a plane crashed into the Ferris wheel she was riding with her brother on the NSW mid north coast when she was 13.

Amber Christine Arndell, now 23, repeatedly screamed "it's going to crash" as she filmed the light plane taking off from an airstrip near the Old Bar Beach Festival near Taree in 2011.

"Oh look, Jessie, a plane," she said to her younger brother in the video.

"We're going to watch a plane.

"Oh God, it's going to crash, it's going to crash, it's going to crash. Oh my God."

A thunderous bang followed as it ploughed into the 20-metre high ride.

The boy screamed for his mother, asking "Are we going to drop?" as his sister reassured him but begged to the people below "Please, let us down".

"I feel sick, the plane's just there, it just crashed on us," Ms Arndell said.

The crash was in October 2011. Picture: Frank Palfreyman/AAP
The crash was in October 2011. Picture: Frank Palfreyman/AAP

She sued the Mid-Coast Council and pilot Paul Clarendon Cox for negligence after the crash.

The NSW Supreme Court found both breached their care of Ms Arndell and their negligence caused her "psychiatric injuries".

The council permitted the Ferris wheel to be located within the "splay" of the airstrip - an area in which planes "landing or taking off flew" that should have remained unobstructed.

In his judgment, published this week, Justice Stephen Rothman ordered the council pay Ms Arndell damages totalling $1,513,023.30 however 35 per cent, or almost $530,000, is to be paid by Mr Cox.

The white plane in the top right approaching the ride. Picture: Supplied/NSW Supreme Court
The white plane in the top right approaching the ride. Picture: Supplied/NSW Supreme Court

 

Moments before it collided. Picture: Supplied/NSW Supreme Court
Moments before it collided. Picture: Supplied/NSW Supreme Court


The judge concluded Ms Arndell had a pre-existing psychological vulnerability before the collision but went through a "period of decompensation" and developed anxiety and depressive disorders.

"The overwhelming cause of the plaintiff's incapacity is the trauma associated with the collision," the judgment states.

The judge said Ms Arndell's recording of events "must have been increasingly frightening" and her testimony "makes clear that she was frightened the Ferris wheel was going to collapse; and/or the fuel from the plane would ignite; and that she and her brother would die".

Evidence to the court also established she "enjoys some social interaction and activities, particularly when in the company of her partner, but continues to suffer restrictions in the enjoyment of life, outside employment", he said.

Ms Arndell was left "shaking and in tears and terrified that something was going to happen" after being pressured by her grandparents to "face her problems" and ride on a Ferris wheel to overcome them.

In September 2017, almost six years after the incident, she went to a fairground and rode on a Ferris wheel with her partner, which she considered a "huge success", the judgment states.

"There is no doubt that it was and it does provide some evidence that the plaintiff (Ms Arndell) has, at least to a certain degree, overcome her fear of Ferris wheels," the judge said.

"However … that does not mean that her psychiatric conditions have resolved."

In addition, Justice Rothman said Ms Arndell "has no realistic or exercisable capacity to earn" and is "for all practical purposes … unemployable".

She is unable to deal or work with members of the public when not with someone she trusts.

In determining economic loss, he accepted Ms Arndell would have otherwise completed high school, studied a TAFE course in design, fashion or technology and entered the workforce in 2019, going on to be "part of a two-income earning family until retirement age of 67 years".

"The effect of the collision rendered that (study) an impossible task," Justice Rothman said.

Her future economic loss was determined to be $1.1 million and non-economic loss $412,200.

Amber Christine Arndell was in one of the cabin’s with her brother. Picture: Frank Palfreyman/AAP
Amber Christine Arndell was in one of the cabin’s with her brother. Picture: Frank Palfreyman/AAP

The pilot, Mr Cox, failed in his claim against the council for psychiatric injuries despite the court accepting he is "wholly incapacitated" by these including post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and flashbacks.

Mr Cox has undergone "intensive treatment" for an obsessional fear of sharp objects he developed, which at worst leaves him "afraid that pens will hurt him" or worried about injuring his fingers on the glass of his phone, according to documents tendered in the case.

The court found he "displayed a lack of due care and diligence" with his touch-and-go landing attempt of the plane that was, even on his own evidence, "too high, too fast and too deep" before he veered left into the ride.

"The duty of care … was owed to all members of the public who may be harmed by any such lack of reasonable care and skill," Justice Rothman said.

Originally published as 'Traumatic' moment plane hit Ferris wheel



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