You’ll note that this search area does not envelope any farmland, so there is no reason for there to be a fire there, and I’ve selected most of the search area higher up the mountain working on the basis that smoke from a burning aircraft would only rise probably about 1500 ft, so therefore it is unlikely to have a source of approximately 500 ft below the range, otherwise the woman in Oxford would not have been able to see it.
As in all these mysterious disappearances, you need to try to ‘get inside the pilot’s head” to understand what he was thinking, what he was doing, and why he was doing it, and then you have a better understanding of where he is likely to be.
I can understand exactly what was going through Ryan’s head if he went over the top, as on returning home from Tauranga (to Hastings), I had to deviate to an airstrip in Rangataiki, east of Taupo, due to the weather being of a similar situation in the Ranges as what Ryan would have been experiencing. I deviated there due to there being a place you can get a meal and a bed for the night.
Unbeknown to me at the time, that day of the week was the one day that they happened to be closed (Monday). One problem with Rangataiki is that there is no cellphone coverage, so the only form of communication out of there is by using the land-line phone at the shop, but of course there was no-one there to gain access to it. Therefore, the only way I could avoid SAR looking for me was to takeoff and climb to an altitude where I could get cellphone coverage. The problem there was that if I took off, climbed to several thousand feet and then landed back at Rangataiki, then I didn’t have enough fuel reserves to safely fly anywhere else. The only option would have been to fly west to Taupo, but if the cloud base was too low to get into there, I could have been in real trouble.
After deliberating on the ground for quite a while as to the safest option, I decided I had no real option but to climb up through a big hole in the cloud directly above the strip and see if I could contact my wife via cellphone to let her know I was alright and to find out if the sky was clear of cloud on the Hastings side to enable me to get down again if I went over the top. At about 7500 ft I was able to get her and she said it was blue skies from just east of the airfield (where we live) to as far as she could see towards the coast (east).
I had just enough fuel left to legally make Hastings, so I set off across the top. I need to explain that in my plane I have wing tanks with sight gauges where I can see exactly how much fuel I have, and a header tank in front of the dashboard of 22 litres. 22 litres is my legal reserve, but as I can’t actually see how much fuel is actually in it, I get very nervous if I can’t see any in the wing tanks, and I’m immediately looking for a place to land.
The way I look at it, if I can’t see fuel in the sight gauges, then I consider it as though I’m out of fuel. I never allow myself to even consider counting on the fuel in the header tank as useable. Other people may, but that is what I’ve set as my own personal boundary!
In my mind I thought I would only be over cloud for about ten minutes, but ended up 25 minutes, and boy....was that a ...... long...... 25 minutes!
If anything had gone wrong, I would have been in serious trouble... At least I knew that I could get back down at the other end, whereas Ryan did not have this privilege. All he could have done was hope it was clear, and as he knew that the weather on the East Coast was clearing, he must have thought that it would be. Maybe he had a transistor radio with earphones and heard a weather report that said the weather had cleared on the eastern side, or maybe he had listened in on a radio station with one of the navigational radios - if FMQ had one? Maybe the fact that the weather over the Brodrick Pass was clear enough for him to get through there, and he would have seen that the weather at Mt Cook further north was clear, then maybe this led him to believe that it would also be clear in the Lake Coleridge area? Maybe it was simply a case of westerly - bad weather to the west of ranges / good to the east of ranges (and vice-a-versa)?
You might ask, why didn’t Ryan call someone on the radio, or with the cellphone he had with him?
The answer is in Chris Rudge’s account in “MISSING” - the radio was in need of repair, and the
thought was his cellphone had run flat. One thing not mentioned in MISSING is that there was no cellphone coverage (and still isn’t) in Haast, and very limited coverage (if any) along the coast at Fox and Franz Josef.
Hopefully, as a result of all this research Mike Moynihan, Darryl Sherwin, Chris Lind, Tom McCready, and I have done, Ryan and ZK-FMQ may be found!
If anything more comes to light, or I find anything to disprove this, or otherwise, I’ll publish it here.....
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