Woman used dead pilot’s name to avoid driving fine

Wreckage from Gold Coast helicopter crash

An Australian woman has admitted trying to pin a driving fine on a pilot killed in a horrific mid-air helicopter crash.

Stephanie Louise Bennett was caught using her phone while behind the wheel, but used details in Ashley Jenkinson’s obituary to accuse him of the offence.

The UK-born pilot was among four people killed when two helicopters collided near Brisbane in January.

Ms Bennett pleaded guilty to fraud and identity theft on Wednesday. She will be sentenced in May.

Police say the 33-year-old was sent a fine notice in early January, shortly after she was caught using her phone while driving – an offence which attracts a penalty of A$1,078 (US$665).

She disputed the fine online, instead nominating Mr Jenkinson, who she did not know – as the driver at the time of the offence in December.

Mr Jenkinson’s partner alerted authorities after receiving the fine notice weeks after his death.

Ms Bennett had previously avoided court – instead trying to enter a guilty plea by email, which the magistrate rejected – and disguised herself with a scarf as she arrived to heckles on Wednesday.

In Ms Bennett’s email to the court, which was read aloud, she apologised “for the turmoil this has caused anyone” and said she was “immensely regretful for my actions”.

She said she had been going through “personal matters” and “financial troubles” at the time, and had tried to undo her actions the next morning.

Mr Jenkinson’s helicopter, which was taking off, collided with a helicopter coming in to land at Sea World, on the Gold Coast, on 4 January.

He was killed, along with three passengers on board – Sydney woman Vanessa Tadros, and British couple Ron and Diane Hughes – and three others were seriously injured.

The other helicopter was heavily damaged but managed to land on a sandbar.

A report on the Sea World crash last month suggested one pilot may have not heard a vital radio call before the two aircraft came into contact.

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