Friday, 18 October 2013

New search to solve 1981 plane mystery

It was an icy night on Sunday, August 9, 1981 when a Cessna 210, call sign VH-MDX, went missing over the Barrington Tops with five people on board.

It was on a three hour flight from Coolangatta to Bankstown airport when the Cessna 210M accumulated "a fair amount of ice" over the peaks of the park's mountain ranges.

In his last transmission, pilot Michael Hutchins tells the operator the light aircraft is "at 5000 (feet)".

Then he drops out of contact.

Despite countless searches, the bodies of Hutchins and his four passengers, Rhett Bosler, Noel Wildash, Phillip Pembroke and NSW Police Superintendent Ken Price have never been found.

Fergus Bell was the director of Bushwalker Rescues at the time of the incident and helped organise the original 10-day search mission.

He recalls the occupants of the plane were friends returning from a yachting trip in north Queensland.

Immediately after the incident, he knew there was very little hope of finding the men alive.

"Maybe privately they (rescuers) had hopes of finding survivors but the reality was that ... everything was adding up to a tragedy," he told AAP.

He describes the wind in the region on that icy night as "howling from the west" with snow falling in Barrington.

The area where it disappeared was so remote and rugged it presented an almost impossible task for search teams.

In unpredictable weather conditions they inched their way through thick forest with undergrowth so impenetrable it had to be cut away, risking life and limb as they negotiated steep ridges and plunging ravines.

After a fortnight the search was called off, but over the three decades since then a number of people have continued trying to solve the mystery.

Recent investigations combining flight information and modern mapping software has identified a one by two kilometre area in Barrington Tops National Park as the most likely site of the crash.

This weekend, more than 150 rescue personnel will scour the suspected crash site in a three day, last-ditch attempt to find the lost men.

The operation's commander Superintendent Peter Thurtell has seen how the crash effects those who remember it.

He says over the decades local residents had tried to help the families of the missing people in unofficial searches.

"An old sergeant that recently passed away, he used to go up there in his own time looking," he tells AAP.

"A lot of people never... gave up (despite) not really knowing where to search."

A 1983 aircraft accident investigation report couldn't determine the cause of the accident, but listed "severe turbulence, icing and a failure of the aircraft's primary flight instruments" as probable factors.

Searching for the Cessna wreckage has taken up a significant period of Fergus Bell's adult life.

He says it's a "wonderful mystery," but hopes the families of those on board will one day be able to lay their loved ones to rest.

The search began on Friday.

Friday 18 October 2013


Post a Comment