Thursday, August 02, 2012

Cessna 210, VH MDX: Has plane crash mystery been solved? Accident occurred on August 09, 1981 in the Barrington Tops NSW Australia

On the 9th of August in 1981 at 9:39 PM Cessna VH MDX crashed somewhere in the Barrington Tops NSW Australia. After many searches over the past 30 years the remains of the aircraft and the 5 persons on board has never been found. This is the radio transmission of that fatal flight.

Australia's only unsolved civil air crash happened 31 years ago in the Barrington Tops. Now two men who've been searching for the wreckage for years claim they've pinpointed its location.

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.

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.

Two of them, Gloucester retiree Don Readford and barrister Gary Donovan, now believe they have.

They told 1233 ABC Newcastle's Aaron Kearney they have pinpointed the crash site to an area called Scattered Top Mountain.

Don was present at Bankstown Aero Club, where the Cessna was based, on the night it disappeared en route from Coolangatta.

"The details were very, very sketchy at that time," he says.

"The pilot had reported that the aircraft was badly iced up and he was going down, and he was reading his altitudes as he was going down."

(You can hear the final transmission from the Cessna pilot in the attached audio)

Aside from pilot Michael Hutchins, those on board included Philip Pembroke, Rhett Bosler, Noel Wildash and Ken Price, then deputy of Sydney Water Police.

The group had been on a yachting holiday and were returning to Sydney.

Don and Gary say that both the original official search and subsequent private searches have been hampered by the extreme terrain, with even the RAAF unable to find a trace of the missing aircraft.

"It's a very rugged area, very rugged," Gary says.

"There were no roads, no tracks, it's heavily laden with scrub and bracken, and finding the aircraft will be extremely, extremely difficult."

One team of searchers back in 1981 emerged from an area known as the Devil's Triangle, exhausted, bleeding and demoralised, describing the task as "mission impossible".

The men say they've narrowed down the crash site to an area of two square kilometres on the south-western side of Scattered Top Mountain in the Barrington Tops.

"Because the fuel did not ignite, there was no visible scar and that made any chance of locating the aircraft very, very difficult," Don says.

The pair have written a book about the Cessna mystery, called Operation Phoenix ~ the theoretical search for the Cessna VH-MDX and they hope their conclusions motivate others to search the area they've pinpointed and finally find the wreckage.

"It's important not only to find the aircraft and of course the remains of the five people, first of all to see whether anything extra can be learned from that accident, but also to bring closure to the families," Gary says.

Coincidentally, the area Don and Gary have targeted as the crash site is very close to the property where fugitive Malcolm Naden was taken into custody, only around 2.5km away.

Newcastle Library has a copy of the Operation Phoenix publication.

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