A HORSEMAN scans the snowfields yesterday in the search for missing Tweed Coast identity Brian Ray, his wife Kathy and pilot Ru
A HORSEMAN scans the snowfields yesterday in the search for missing Tweed Coast identity Brian Ray, his wife Kathy and pilot Ru

Looking grim



HOPES are fading for millionaire Tweed identity Brian Ray, his wife Kathy and their pilot Russell Lee, as heavy snow and poor visibility continue to hamper the search for their missing plane.

The Victorian highlands, where the trio's eight-seater Piper Chieftain aircraft went missing late on Friday, have been blanketed in snow.

And the low cloud that has prevented an aerial search of the forest and snowfields near Mount Hotham is also not forecast to lift until today, at the earliest.

About 70 people joined the search yesterday, on horseback and on foot, but there was no sign of the aircraft chartered by Mr Ray, a high-profile Gold Coast property developer.

"It is fair to say the longer time goes on, it becomes a much more serious situation for any survivors," Australian Search And Rescue (AusSAR) spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins said last night.

The temperature at Mount Hotham has been below zero since the plane made its last radio transmission.

POOR conditions have forced searchers to use horses rather than aircraft in a bid to find Tweed identity Brian Ray and his wife Kathy, missing since the light plane they were travelling on disappeared in mountainous terrain near Victoria's ski fields.

The couple's children - Tom, Jack and Savannah - have joined searchers on the mountain, desperate for any news of those on board the Piper Chieftain which disappeared while flying from Melbourne to the Hotham airstrip, in Victoria's mountainous north east.

Sub-zero conditions, gale force winds and driving snow throughout the weekend have left searchers fearing the worst about Mr and Mrs Ray and Geelong-based pilot Russell Lee, and heavy snowfalls have raised concerns that any aircraft wreckage would be camouflaged.

"We're still holding out for a miracle and the three of them (the children) have faith in their mum and dad," said friend and lawyer for the Ray family's company, Tony Hickey after arriving at Mt Hotham late yesterday.

"We are keeping our hopes up and are holding strong together."

Low cloud and steady snowfall kept helicopters grounded yesterday, forcing about 45 searchers onto horseback in a bid to access inhospitable areas.

Mr Lee and his passengers left Essendon airport at 4.30pm on Friday after Mr Ray, who is behind the $750-million Salt redevelopment south of Kingscliff, chartered the eight-seat aircraft to fly from Melbourne to Mt Hotham for a weekend's skiing.

Air traffic controllers losy contact with the plane about 11km south-east of Mt Hotham airport, near Cobungra, at 5.25pm.

Police said Mr Lee had followed normal procedure to fly over the airport before requesting the landing field lights be turned on.

When a flight controller tried to speak with the pilot 90 seconds after his original request to tell him the lights were already on, he was unable to make contact.

Acting Sergeant Greg Barras from Victorian Police search and rescue said a witness who saw the aircraft in the air on Friday, south of the airport near Cobungra Station, had allowed searchers to significantly narrow the search area to within 8.5km.

"But it is still very rugged terrain and the weather is doing us no favours," Sgt Barras said.

"At the moment our searchers and they are in waist-deep snow so it is very trying conditions.

"We are hoping tomorrow at first light that we can put in field units that will be able to spend extended periods in that area."

Senior officer with Australian Search and Rescue Craig Condon said searchers continued to hold out hope that Mr Lee and his passengers might still be alive.



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