Crash pilot moved to Tasmania to learn to fly, company says
The sad and dangerous task of retrieving the body of a pilot, killed when their plane crashed in poor weather over the Tasmanian wilderness on Saturday morning, has begun — with airline staff in shock over the death.
- The pilot was experienced and the twin-engine plane “well suited” for flights into the area, the company said
- Wreckage of the aircraft was seen from a rescue helicopter on Saturday night, but conditions were considered too dangerous for a team to be winched down
- Weather patterns in the area are unpredictable and are believed to have been a factor in the crash
The twin-engine plane, owned by Tasmanian charter company Par Avion, and its pilot went missing on Saturday over mountainous terrain in the state’s south-west, after being in the air for about 40 minutes.
Police said at 7:10pm the wreckage was sighted 100 metres below the summit at West Portal, near the Western Arthur Range, and that there was “zero chance of survivability”.
Par Avion said the pilot, whose name has not been released, had learnt to fly with Par Avion and moved to Tasmania to become a pilot.
Rescuers risk lives to bring pilot home
Tasmania Police Inspector Dave Wiss said two helicopters flew as close as possible to the crash site but clouds had moved in.
A Par Avion Britten-Norman Islander twin-engine plane, similar to one that crashed in southwest Tasmania. (ABC News: Annah Fromberg)
“There was predicted to be a break in the clouds at 7:00pm, we had a helicopter waiting nearby, the clouds did part and we darted the helicopter in and they located the crashed aircraft,” Inspector Wiss said today.
“It was a calculated risk, with someone’s life in the balance, the pilot’s life in the balance it was a risk worth taking. There was thankfully that break in the weather and the helicopter got in.”
However, once the scene became clear, it was realised it was a “catastrophic event” with no hope of survival for the pilot, he said.
“I won’t be going into the exact details of the crash in the interests of the family, only to say that there is no chance that the pilot could have survived.”
A storm rolls in over Western Arthur Range in Tasmania’s south-west wilderness. (Supplied: Dan Broun)
Inspector Wiss said three expert crash investigators were winched into the area again today — with all staying on safety lines due to the terrain and conditions.
“We’ve got two priorities; the first is to return the body of the pilot to assist in the closure of the family, that’s obviously important to the family so it’s important to us.
“The second priority we have is obviously to undertake the investigation on behalf of the Tasmanian coroner, who has already provided us with guidance.
“It’s going to be a very difficult retrieval at best, I do not know if it will be sucessful.”
Airline staff in shock
Shannon Well, the managing director of Par Avion’s parent company Airlines of Tasmania, said the poor weather in the area at the time was not unusual: “It’s a region that gets 300 days of rain a year, it gets hurricane-force winds fairly frequently.”
“Our company and our pilots are used to flying in that kind of weather.”
He said Par Avion’s staff and management were in shock over the loss.
“There’s been a lot of tears shed by me and our colleagues, we’re a small family business, we train up a lot of our family here and we see the same people every day,” he said.
“We’re only 30 staff so we know everyone by name and when one of us doesn’t come home it hits us all quite hard.”
Mr Wells said he would not confirm the pilot’s identity out of respect for the family.
“The family are en route from interstate, so we’d rather get them here first and talk to them and then when they ready, I have no doubt in the next 24 hours more information will be made public.”
The view from the cockpit of a Par Avion Britten-Norman Islander, as it flies over Tasmania’s south-west. (YouTube: Timothy Smith)
Pilot moved to Tasmania to learn to fly
Mr Wells said the pilot had moved to Tasmania to become a pilot and learnt to fly with Par Avion.
“They did all their training here, they were well versed in Tasmanian flying conditions and this was their second year of flying commercially for us,” he said.
The pilot had even begun “assisting and checking other pilots with their flying to the south-west”, Mr Wells said.
He said the company, which had been operating since 1978, completes hundreds of flights over the south-west every year.
Tasmanian Police said they would work with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and that the matter was now before the coroner.