FLIGHT TRAGEDY

Search and res­cue team lo­cates plane wreck­age in rugged South­west

Sunday Tasmanian - - Front Page - EMILY BAKER and BRAD PETERSEN

THE search for a plane and its solo pi­lot miss­ing in Tas­ma­nia’s rugged South­west Na­tional Park has ended in tragedy.

Tas­ma­nia Po­lice last night con­firmed a res­cue team work­ing the re­mote area had lo­cated the wreck­age of the twin-en­gine Par Avion air­craft, which had been re­ported miss­ing ear­lier in the day. “Sadly, there is a zero per cent chance of sur­viv­abil­ity,” the state­ment, is­sued at 11.30pm said.

“At 7.10pm, the plane was lo­cated by the West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter at West Por­tal, near the west­ern Arthur Range.

“Trag­i­cally, it was de­ter­mined by the highly ex­pe­ri­enced search and res­cue po­lice on board that the pi­lot could not have sur­vived the crash.”

Search and res­cue teams had first mo­bilised when the plane’s emer­gency bea­con was ac­ti­vated about 8.30am while the pi­lot was mak­ing a rou­tine flight to Me­laleuca to col­lect a group of tourists.

PO­LICE say there is no chance a pi­lot who crashed in a twin-en­gine plane in the South­west Na­tional Park yes­ter­day has sur­vived.

Search and res­cue teams led by the Aus­tralian Mar­itime Safety Au­thor­ity bat­tled poor weather to comb the rugged wilder­ness for hours yes­ter­day af­ter the pi­lot’s bea­con was ac­ti­vated about 8.30am.

While there was no re­sult dur­ing the day, the grim dis­cov­ery came in the evening.

A crew on the West­pac Res­cue he­li­copter found the plane wreck­age at West Por­tal, near the Arthur Range, about 7.10pm last night.

“Trag­i­cally, it was de­ter­mined by the highly ex­pe­ri­enced search and res­cue po­lice on board that the pi­lot could not have sur­vived the crash,” po­lice said in a state­ment.

“The con­di­tions were such that it was too dan­ger­ous for the search and res­cue mem­bers to be winched down to the scene at that time.”

Po­lice will he­li­copter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion team to the site to­day.

In­spec­tor Dave Wiss said only in­ves­ti­ga­tors and foren­sic of­fi­cers with search and res­cue train­ing would be chop­pered to the steep and dan­ger­ous ter­rain.

“Our thoughts are with the fam­ily at this dif­fi­cult time,” Insp Wiss said.

“We re­main in con­tact and we will con­tinue to pro­vide them with the in­for­ma­tion we cur­rently know to as­sist them in com­ing to terms with this ter­ri­ble ac­ci­dent.”

The pi­lot with Ho­bart wilder­ness tour op­er­a­tor Par Avion was trav­el­ling to Me­laleuca yes­ter­day morn­ing to col­lect a tour group.

Speak­ing yes­ter­day be­fore the plane was found, Air­lines of Tas­ma­nia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Shan­non Wells said his com­pany had been in reg­u­lar con­tact with the pi­lot’s fam­ily dur­ing the search ef­fort.

“The track­ing sys­tem shows the air­craft was in the air for about 40 min­utes and fol­lowed the usual route be­fore get­ting into trou­ble over the Arthur Ranges,” Mr Wells said. “We do not know with cer­tainty what went wrong and can only spec­u­late as to what has oc­curred, but based on Bu­reau of Me­te­o­rol­ogy re­ports, we be­lieve weather may have been a fac­tor.”

The area was cov­ered in low cloud for much of the day.

Mr Wells said the pi­lot had done the flight many times and that the air­craft, a twin-en­gine plane, was suited for flights into the South­west park.

“The air­craft is fit­ted with an emer­gency lo­ca­tion bea­con in ad­di­tion to the satel­lite tracker, so we have a rea­son­ably good idea of the lo­ca­tion of where the air­craft was last po­si­tioned,” Mr Wells said.

The crash is be­fore the Coro­ner and will be in­ves­ti­gated by the Aus­tralian Trans­port Safety Bu­reau.

Tas­ma­nia Po­lice sent a four-per­son ground crew to the South­west Na­tional Park yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

The crew, in­clud­ing three po­lice searchers and one Am­bu­lance Tas­ma­nia para­medic, was dropped into the area by the West­pac he­li­copter about 5pm. The po­lice team was us­ing di­rec­tion-find­ing equip­ment to lo­cate the miss­ing plane’s bea­con.

Ear­lier, two po­lice he­li­copters and an Aus­tralian Mar­itime Safety Au­thor­ity Chal­lenger jet from Essendon worked through poor weather for sev­eral hours try­ing to lo­cate the plane.

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