DEATH DIVE ON RADIO
By DARREN COYNE and NEELIMA CHOAHAN
A TWEED-based aeroplane enthusiast yesterday described as chilling the final seconds of a Gold Coast pilot's death plunge at Casuarina on Sunday.
Terry Magee of West Tweed was listening to his scanner as the plane took off from Gold Coast Airport and shortly after he heard the pilot reporting he had engine problems.
The plane, a twin-engine Piper Comanche registered to John Storhaug, 60, of Mermaid Waters, crashed into the surf at Casuarina shortly after at 5.26pm.
"I heard the pilot saying 'mayday' and telling the tower that he had engine problems and was going to come around and attempt to land on the beach," Mr Magee said.
"It was quite chilling. You know these things happen but you don't expect, out of the blue on a Sunday afternoon, for it to happen.
"At the time I didn't realise it was the pilot's final call, but then I heard Lifesaver 5 (rescue helicopter) get airborne, followed by two media helicopters from Brisbane, and then of course Careflight."
"He was a pretty well-known pilot and I would say a pretty experienced pilot."
Police yesterday were unable to confirm the pilot's identity as his wife is currently on holidays in Switzerland, although neighbours of the Storhaugs yesterday said they understood he was the deceased pilot.
Neighbour Dianne Lee yesterday described Mr Storhaug as friendly, laidback and well-travelled.
She said she was shocked to hear he had died.
"I just spoke to him on Saturday," Ms Lee said.
Mr Storhaug and his wife had lived in their sprawling house in Mermaid Waters for close to five years.
Ms Lee said Mr Storhaug would often pop over and tell her parents about his travels.
Yesterday, the well-kept house, which backs onto a lake, appeared deserted.
Meanwhile police divers were due to arrive from Sydney late yesterday and planned to begin salvage operations this morning if weather con-ditions permitted.
The aircraft was based in a private hangar at Gold Coast Airport and had been for a number of years.
The plane was first registered in 1975 and was re-registered on December 7, 2005, by Mr John Storhaug.
It was unclear yesterday when he purchased the aircraft.
Rod Fearon, chief investigator with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, yesterday said it would be some time before investigations were completed.
"At this stage we have no information on the nature of the engine problems which led to the crash," Mr Fearon said.
Mr Fearon said twin-engined Comanches were not required to have black-box recording devices fitted, however investigators would examine the plane's instruments and wreckage, maintenance records and pilot records.
He said any person/witness with information about the accident should contact the ATSB on 1800 020 616.
Inspector Greg Carey yesterday said police were struggling to track down the pilot's next-of-kin, who was holidaying in Switzerland.
"We can say the gentleman was from Queensland and that we're working towards identifying a known person, but there was a lot of trauma as a result of the accident," Insp Carey said.
Insp Carey praised the efforts of surf lifesavers and the crew of Lifesaver 5, who attempted to save the pilot from the wreckage.
"They did a fantastic job and one of the Lifesaver 5 crew members dived in and swam down to the plane but it would appear that the pilot was deceased at the point of impact," he said.