Lost and forgotten in tiger country
By DARREN COYNE
HOW the plane crash remained undiscovered for almost six days remains a mystery.
What is known is that 72-year-old pilot David Knight and his wife Jill crashed not long after leaving Murwillumbah early on Saturday morning.
They had planned to fly home to Coonabarabran after visiting their unit at Burleigh Heads ... a flight they'd made countless times before. But this time, somewhere above Tenterfield, something went horribly wrong and the couple died in what rescuers described as "tiger country".
It wasn't until yesterday morning that a Tenterfield landowner out on his horse mustering
cattle noticed a blackened area on a ridgeline.
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter from Lismore had already scoured the area for an hour and a half and were set to return for another look with some locals on board when pilot Dave Milnes was told the landowner had rung in with the crash site.
"It was not a survivable crash," Mr Milnes said upon returning.
"We had no communications. The terrain was tiger country, the wind was howling and there were quite steep hills, about 2500 feet above sea level, with rainforest pockets everywhere.
"By the looks of it he was probably going down fairly fast, because the wreckage was not strewn over a large area.
"You could look for these things for days on end, but the information from Australian Search and Rescue was accurate. The crash site was three miles from where they first sent us. They pinpointed it very well.
The single-engine, Beech 36, was found shortly after 10am about 37 kilometres south-east of Tenterfield.
The pilot, David Knight, was yesterday described as "very experienced". He was a volunteer for Angel Flight, and had flown for 45 years.
Police and rescue authorities yesterday were at a loss to explain why it had taken so long for the alarm to be raised.
By yesterday morning a full search along the 280 nautical mile flight path was under way, involving 13 fixed-wing aircraft, and five helicopters.
Australian Search and Rescue spokesman Adrian Rollins said there had been no mayday calls or emergency beacons activated, and no flight plan had been lodged for the trip, as it was unnecessary for the aircraft's size.
Meanwhile the mayor of Warrumbungle Shire Council, Peter Shinton, told media yesterday that Mr and Mrs Knight were well-respected long-time Coonabarabran residents.
He said Mr Knight, who had 45 years' flying experience, had already experienced one crash, in which his wife dragged him from the wreckage moments before their plane blew up.