SIA pilot pleads guilty to causing New Zealand car crash

SINGAPORE - Singapore Airlines (SIA) pilot Benjamin Wu Yonghao has admitted causing a high-speed car crash on the outskirts of Christchurch, New Zealand, that left two of his colleagues seriously injured.

The 32-year-old appeared in front of a Christchurch District Court judge on Friday and pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless driving causing injury.

Wu, a first officer with SIA, was behind the wheel of a Toyota that collided into a four-wheel-drive towing a horse trailer, at a cross-junction near the town of Rolleston on Wednesday.

Four other SIA crew members were in the car. Two - chief steward Chew Weng Wai and stewardess Vanessa Coehlo - are still in Christchurch Hospital.

Mr Chew suffered brain injuries and is in a critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit. Ms Coehlo is in a stable condition following surgery, a hospital spokesman said.

The two other SIA stewardesses were unhurt and have since returned home.

New Zealand police have asked for a delay in sentencing until Mr Chew's condition stabilises though police prosecutor sergeant Glenn Pascoe warned Mr Chew "might still pass away".

Wu's defence lawyer Kerry Cook told the court that SIA has flown the victims' families to New Zealand and was in the process of doing the same for Wu, adding that in the meantime Wu has been "isolated and under stress".

He added that Wu has been staying at a city hotel and brought NZ$15,000 into the country which the Court can disburse to the victims as compensation.

Mr Cook told The Straits Times that Wu has not had any contact with his family in Singapore since the accident.

When asked if the airline had provided assistance to Wu or suspended him, an SIA spokesman declined to comment.

Judge Jane McMeeken has adjourned the case until Monday.

Wu has been let out on bail, but his passport has been impounded.

If convicted, he could be fined up to NZ$20,000 (about S$20,000) and jailed a maximum of five years. He could also be banned from driving in New Zealand for a year.