Lockhart River: Conditions eerily like 2005 crash
FIVE men have been killed in a light plane crash in an "unthinkable" tragedy near the site of one of Australia's worst air disasters in far north Queensland.
Four Q Build workers and the pilot, all of Cairns, died when a twin-engine Cessna 404 Titan smashed into sand dunes in poor weather near Lockhart River on Cape York.
"It made two attempts to land, on the third occasion the plane has tragically crashed,'' Far North Acting Chief Superintendent Chris Hodgman said.
"Nobody has survived that crash."
Police last night guarded the "devastating scene" of the aircraft wreckage, and the bodies of the five victims, with a team of investigators due to fly into the remote aboriginal township, 760km north of Cairns on Thursday.
Police say during a search of the wreckage the bodies of the 39-year-old pilot and four male passengers aged 63, 62, 57 and 49 were located. All five men are from the Cairns area.
Police will be assisting investigators from Australian Transport Safety Bureau who will examine the wreckage and site surroundings.
Police will prepare a report for the Coroner.
It is close to where an ill-fated Twin-prop Metroliner crashed on Iron Range, near the airstrip, killing all 15 people on-board in 2005.
"It is quite surreal to have another tragedy like this at Lockhart River,'' Acting Chief Superintendent Hodgman said. "It's unthinkable really."
Witnesses told The Courier-Mail how heavy cloud and rain from a brewing tropical low blanketed the runway, reducing visibility as the plane was flying low on approach over the beach from the sea about 9.15am.
It is unclear if the pilot made a May Day call or was in radio contact in the moments before the crash.
It was "too early" to comment about the possible cause of the latest crash or other factors, police said.
"We know weather conditions are pretty rough up there at the moment,'' Act Chief Supt Hodgman said.
"If you know Lockhart River it is quite interesting terrain, there are monsoonal winds, providing some challenging conditions.
"There are some challenges to get to the crash site, with the weather conditions and availability of flights.
"It took us quite some time to locate the plane. It was overdue from 11am and it was not until 1.20pm that we located the wreckage."
Q Build staff, with four of the victims based out of the government department in Cairns, have been offered grief counselling as police work to contact next-of-kin.
The Far North's CFMEU representative Rolly Cummins said they had been speaking with QBuild managers and were helping provide support for staff.
"We're working with Mates in Construction who do counselling for those who need help," he said.
"It's terrible news."
Efforts to contact highly regarded pilot and aircraft maintenance engineer who held the long-term lease to the Cessna 404 registration VH-OZO operating under the company name of Airconnect Australia, were last night unsuccessful.
Q Build last night declined to comment.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last night tweeted: "A tragic loss of life on Cape York today. I offer my deep condolences to the families and friends who are grieving for their loved ones tonight."
Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher said the weather yesterday was eerily "exactly the same" as the day of the 2005 tragedy.
"It was terrible weather this morning. It's been full-on rain,'' he said.
"Our whole community is grieving this awful loss. These guys on that plane were here to help us rebuild our community.
"We had a cyclone hit us this time last year, it's just one tragedy to the next."
The ATSB said experienced investigators would be sent to the location of the crash.
"ATSB transport safety investigators with experience in aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance and aeronautical engineering are preparing to deploy to the accident site," a statement from the transport authority said.
"On site, investigators will examine the wreckage and site surrounds, including with the use of a 3D mapping drone.
"The ATSB will also analyse available recorded data, review weather information, and
it is understood the charter flight left Cairns Airport around 8.20am and was due to land at Lockhart River Airport just before 10am."
The plane is registered to West Australian company Aerohire and was used for charter flights, most recently in north Queensland.
A spokesman for Aerohire said the plane had been on a long-term lease to Airconnect Australia. It had been leased for more than 12 months.
He said he did not believe the plane had any safety record issues.
"We are sending our condolences and our thoughts to all the families and those involved," he said.
A Cairns-based pilot who flew the same plane on the same route into Lockhart River said it was a well maintained and reliable aircraft.
But the flight path from the sea to get under heavy cloud cover could lead to "a tendency to fly too low on approach", he said.
Local David Glasheen, who was at sea on a trawler, said thick cloud had covered the runway in the morning and "nobody could see any bloody thing".
"When it gets like that the pilots have to keep going around in circles, until they think they can shoot a gap in the cloud,'' he said.Tim Layton, of business The Greenhoose, said rain had been constant around Lockhart River.
"I live on top of a hill and it has a good view and this morning we couldn't see anything because of the rain and the cloud," he said.
"The rain has been constant.
"It has been ground-soaking weather."
An aviation source said the site where the wreckage was found was consistent with the flight path of a plane that had made a missed approach.
The ATSB plans to release an initial report on the crash in about a month, with a more in-depth final report planned for 18 months' time.
However the ATSB said it would immediately notify relevant stakeholders if any critical safety issues arise during investigations.
QUEENSLAND'S WORST AIR DISASTERS
MARCH 22, 2014
A group of skydivers had just taken off in a Cessna 206 from Caboolture airfield, north of Brisbane, when the plane banked sharply and plunged into the ground, bursting into flames. Five people died.
OCTOBER 1, 2012
Six friends were killed in a crash involving a replica 1934 De Havilland Dragon owned by pilot Des Porter. The three couples were returning to Caboolture after a day at the Monto Air show, when heavy cloud engulfed the plane and it crashed in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
MAY 7, 2005
Twin-prop Metroliner operated by Transair on a flight from Bamaga to Cairns in far north Queensland was only minutes from its destination when severe weather sent the plane veering off course and into rugged rainforest terrain. The victims included 10 men and three women and the two male crew.
NOVEMBER 27, 2001
All four people on board died when an Eastland Air charter flight crashed on takeoff from Toowoomba airport. Pilot Bruce Johnson and three Queensland Government mental health team members were on board the plane which had been having problems with the left engine.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2000
A chartered Beechcraft Super King Air departed Perth for Leonora in WA but never arrived. Instead, the plane crashed near Burketown in Queensland more than five hours away after a "ghost flight", killing eight people. Final communications with the pilot indicated he was suffering hypoxia which led to the death of all on board.
MAY 11, 1990
The crash of an executive jet during a charter flight from Airlie Beach to Mareeba, remains one of aviation's greatest mysteries - with no obvious cause for the tragedy. The pilot was medically fit and no severe weather was experienced yet somehow the Cessna 500 crashed. Eleven people died