Monday, March 21, 2016

Cessna 172L, VH-XZZ: Qantas international pilot Paul Whyte was cleared to fly just one month before he deliberately crashed a light plane he hired into the sea

A Qantas pilot who is believed to have deliberately crashed a light plane into the sea was cleared to fly just one month before his death.

Paul Whyte rented a light aircraft from a company at Lismore in northern NSW on Monday afternoon before later crashing it six nautical miles offshore from Byron Bay.

Despite dealing with a broken marriage, Mr Whyte passed an mental health check in February, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported. 

It has also been revealed that Mr Whyte flew a passenger plane with a capacity of 467 people from Brisbane to Los Angeles just weeks before his death.

Meantime Qantas said in a statement that it 'won't be commenting on speculation' about the cause of the tragedy while the coroner's investigation is underway.

Qantas chief pilot Richard Tobiano noted that Whyte was off duty when the crash occurred.

'As you can imagine, this is a very upsetting time for his family, friends and colleagues, and we're providing them with as much support as we can,' Tobiano said in a statement. 

Mr Whyte's death has raised questions about the frequency and efficiency of mental health checks and experts have called for the implementation of peer support systems.

'It would allow airlines to keep track of mental health on a more immediate level,' Griffith University psychiatrist Harry McConnell told the Bulletin.

Earlier it was reported Mr Whyte spoke to his daughters prior to boarding the plane, and sent a final text message to his family before crashing at 'high speed' into the water, according to the Gold Coast Bulletin. 

His rented Cessna 172 aircraft left Lismore at about 4.20pm and radar information shows all contact with the plan was lost.

Police and rescue teams launched a search for the missing pilot and his plane after he failed to return to Lismore later that night. 

The search was scaled back and police confirmed Mr Whyte's disappearance was 'not suspicious' on Wednesday afternoon. 

Qantas has confirmed Mr Whyte worked for them as a first officer.

'It is with great sadness that I confirm that an off-duty Qantas pilot was flying a light aircraft which went missing off the northern coast of New South Wales on Monday evening,' Qantas Chief Pilot, Captain Richard Tobiano told Daily Mail Australia. 

'As you can imagine this is a very upsetting time for his family, friends and colleagues, and we're providing them with as much support as we can. I ask you to respect their privacy at this time.'

Northern Rivers Aero Club president Bill Kiernan, who rented the plane to Mr Whyte, told Daily Mail Australia he knew him and didn't ask questions when he rented the plane on Monday.

'We own and have access to quite a few aeroplanes. As long as the pilots are qualified and meet CAA requirements, that's our business. Mr Whyte cert met the criteria,' he said. 

'Mr Whyte rang me and said can I have a plane, I rang my colleague and said Paul was good to go.'

Investigators are now preparing a report for the coroner following his death. 

Read more:

Paul Whyte.

The pilot who is believed to have deliberately crashed his light aircraft into the ocean was employed flying jets for Qantas.

Struggling with a broken marriage, Paul Whyte rented a light aircraft from a flying club in Lismore, made one final phone call to his daughters and disappeared into the ocean six nautical miles offshore from Byron Bay late on Monday afternoon.

Authorities refused to provide any details of the tragedy, a move which has infuriated Northern Rivers Aero Club president Bill Kiernan, the man who leased the aircraft to Mr Whyte.

Mr Kiernan told The Gold Coast Bulletin the Australian and International Pilots Association had tried to silence him, warning him not to tell anyone Mr Whyte was a Qantas pilot.

“I was warned not to say he flew for Qantas but I told them I’ll say whatever I want, because it was the truth,” he said.

“I won’t be (expletive) over by a bunch of bureaucrats.

“They need to face up to reality.

“The family knows what is going on and the worst thing about this is the innuendo — it is better to put the bullshit to rest.”

Police say he sent one final text message to his family as he plunged his Cessna 172 into a death-spiral into the waters off northern NSW.

Paul Whyte.

Qantas went silent, initially refusing to even confirm Mr Whyte worked for them.

Yesterday the national carrier eventually conceded he was employed by them but still refused to reveal when the troubled father of two last commanded a commercial flight.

Qantas also refused to answer questions about how the company looked for warning signs that pilots were flying while mentally unstable.

Yesterday the family home looked to be deserted, with the windows covered with cardboard.

A note pinned to the front door said, “Family are requesting privacy at this very sad time.”.

The revelations come one year after pilot Andreas Lubitz killed 150 people by intentionally crashing a Germanwings plane near the French Alps.

Mr Whyte’s Cessna 172 left Lismore at 4.20pm and AirServices Australia lost contact with it about 4.50pm.

NSW police believe the plane hit the ocean at “high speed” and will prepare a report for the coroner.

They also confirmed the death was “not suspicious”.

Richmond Local Area Command chief inspector Cameron Lindsay said the search for the wreckage would be difficult.

“What we’ve been told by experts is the plane was travelling at a very high speed when it impacted the water,” he said.

“It’s in a very deep part of the ocean there and is beyond the capabilities of the police divers, so now we have to look at the use of submersible vehicles.”

Mr Whyte told News Corp reporters nine years ago he moved from Sydney to a small duplex in Lennox Head to escape the rat race and “live in a society”.

Sadly, in the past 12 months he separated from his wife and moved into a rented home a few streets away from the family home.

His new next-door neighbours said they could often hear him swimming in the pool with his daughters on the rare occasion he was home.

The last person to see Mr Whyte alive described the him as “calm” and “relaxed” before he boarded the light aircraft.

Northern Rivers Aero Club pilot trainer Bob Snape said Mr Whyte casually strolled towards the runway in the afternoon, making small talk about his children.

“He was running late because he was on the phone to his daughter,” he said.

“He was really calm and relaxed and we were just casually chatting about other pilots we knew.

“It was the first time I met him but he seemed like a nice guy.”

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