SIA pilot in New Zealand car crash ordered to pay victims $20,000

Singapore Airlines first officer Benjamin Wu Yonghao, who was involved in a car crash in New Zealand which left two of his colleagues seriously injured, has been ordered to pay each of his victims NZ$10,000 (S$9,997) in compensation. -- PHOTO: BENJAM
Singapore Airlines first officer Benjamin Wu Yonghao, who was involved in a car crash in New Zealand which left two of his colleagues seriously injured, has been ordered to pay each of his victims NZ$10,000 (S$9,997) in compensation. -- PHOTO: BENJAMIN WU YONGHAO/FACEBOOK 
Five SIA crew members were involved in a car crash in New Zealand on the morning of Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: NEW ZEALAND HERALD 
Five SIA crew members were involved in a car crash in New Zealand on the morning of Oct 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: NEW ZEALAND HERALD 

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot who was involved in a car crash in New Zealand which left two of his colleagues seriously injured, has been ordered to pay each of his victims NZ$10,000 (S$9,997) in compensation.

SIA first officer Benjamin Wu Yonghao, 32, who was sentenced on Friday morning by the Christchurch District Court, was also banned from driving in the country for 18 months.

Wu was driving a rental Toyota car with four other colleagues in it when he ran a stop sign at a cross-junction just outside Christchurch, and hit another vehicle - a four-wheel-drive towing a horse trailer - last Wednesday.

Wu had managed to slow down to about 40-50kmh when he saw the stop sign at the last minute but could not stop in time.

The four-wheel-drive was travelling at 80kmh and had the right of way, braked heavily too but was not able to prevent a collision.

The court heard that Wu had told police he did not want to make an abrupt stop as it would have been "uncomfortable" for his passengers.

Last week, Wu had pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless driving causing injury.

His two colleagues, chief steward Chew Weng Wai and stewardess Vanessa Coehlo, are still hospitalised - Mr Chew for brain injuries, and Ms Coehlo for fractured bones and injuries to her spleen and bladder. They were both seated in the backseat and not wearing seatbelts.

Mr Chew, who is still in Christchurch Hospital, has six to 12 months of rehabilitation ahead of him, the court heard.

A victim impact statement from Mr Chew's family said he would require further surgery, with his recovery in the future still being "unknown".

"It is obvious that he will face a very long recovery," Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said.

Ms Coehlo would "bear scars for a long time" and was unsure about her future employment, he added.

Judge O'Driscoll noted that it was "perhaps ironic" that the other two stewardesses wearing seatbelts had not been hurt, adding that Wu should have ensured his passengers had belted up.

But Wu's defence lawyer Kerry Cook told the court there was no legal responsibility for his client to do so.

"It is the responsibility of the passengers alone to make sure they wear seatbelts," Mr Cook told The Straits Times.

He added that the incident was a "tragic unintended accident with tragic consequences", and that Wu has apologised in person to both Ms Coehlo and Mr Chew's family, who do not bear him any grudge.

"(Wu) is significantly upset and distraught at the harm. He has a significant burden to carry," said Mr Cook.

In a statement issued by Mr Cook, Wu said he was sorry and took responsibility for the accident.

"I am thankful that everyone involved in this accident is showing signs of improvement and recovery and I just wish we can move on from here so my friends and colleagues can focus on becoming healthy and well again," he said.