Paul had 110 hours of flight logged, but unfortunately only had a total of 6 hours in the last year. If anything had gone wrong, he may have had great difficulty keeping control of the aeroplane.
Over the years there have been many theories of what may have happened, the most common being that he had gone down in one of the Lakes in the Hunuas, or even in the sea, however the Lakes were checked for several days after the disappearance for oil slicks, etc., and the same for the sea and coastline in the area, but there has never been any sign of anything.
So what do I think happened?
Apart from what I have suggested in this article, I honestly don’t know! There is no real evidence to say that he flew to anywhere other than where he said he was going - to the Hunua Training Area. I’m told that that area was not actually over the bush clad hills but over the farmlands to the west - in the area of Pinnacle Hill and further to the south.
One theory is that the reported odd CB (Thunderstorm) ‘chased’ him out into the Firth of Thames.... ?
According to the files, his flatmate who last saw him at 4.00pm on the Thursday of his disappearance, “Went to shop and when I got back shortly after Paul had left a note ‘Gone flying’ and nothing else. Quite normal. Normal mood. No problems with girls and or drink. Happy type, not depressed, careful pilot.”
Another friend commented the same to Police, “Nothing suspicious or extraordinary, not depressed - careful pilot.”
Another... “Happy-go-lucky on the ground but careful in the air. Decent sensible guy.”
One of his bosses (Railways): “ He is an apprentice with us - hope he’s safe - a steady chap, and I know of nothing to suggest otherwise.”
His Father: “He is not the sort that takes shortcuts as he is conscientious and careful. I know all parents feel their children are the best, but Paul really is a sensible chap. I just can’t see him doing anything silly.”
CFI: (in interview notes) “Pilot - Quite shy, reticent. Came from Air Training Corps”
So all you people in Auckland, here’s one right on your ‘back-door’, so if you’re keen to go for a search, this one will be easy for you to get to. Just make sure you have permission to cross any private land if you need to, and what ever you do take a high-sensitivity GPS (one that will work under bush cover) and email me the track from it after the search so that I can publish it on this site so that no-one else ends up wasting their time going over the same area.
Keep a good lookout not only on the ground but also up in the trees as some crashed aircraft have been known to stay suspended in the branches for years.
There was a case of where trampers were sitting around having lunch when one of them glanced up, and there was an aeroplane hanging there!
Page 10 WAC
Update 13 Sept 2013
When reading the following, bare in mind, as on page 3, Paul’s Instructor said, “he would have been practicing his stalls and emergency landings.”
David Peters has kindly sent me an article dated July 10, 1997 by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) where they were concerned about the high rate of fatalities attributed to spinning in the PA38 Tomahawk. They were concerned that it appeared that Piper had not completed the required stall/spin testing to achieve certification, or at least there was no record of these tests being done. Here is the relevant sections from the NTSB Article:
In an April 1995 letter to the Safety Board, a former test pilot, employed by Piper at the Lock Haven facility from 1978 to 1984, stated that the production PA-38-112 aircraft that he flew were “totally unpredictable, one never knew in which direction they would roll-off; or to what degree, as the result of a stall.” These sentiments were echoed by a second former test pilot, employed by Piper at the Lock Haven facility for at least six years beginning in 1979, in a January 1997 interview with a Safety Board investigator. He stated that “the airplanes were very unpredictable in a stall. Each airplane did not perform stalls the same from one flight to the other.”
In January 1997, Safety Board staff interviewed a third former test pilot, employed by Piper from 1973 to 1978, who held the company title of chief pilot and served as the FAA Delegation Option Authority (DOA) and Designated Engineering Representative (DER). He stated that the production PA-38-112 airplanes built at the Lock Haven facility were “nothing like the article certified by the FAA as far as stall characteristics are concerned.” He reported that Piper test pilots who performed post-production flight tests were “shocked at the stall characteristics observed.” He claimed that the additional stall strips did not eliminate the stall/spin defects that he observed in the airplane.
The Safety Board attempted to determine if the FAA had ever evaluated the stall characteristics of production PA-38-112 airplanes, in either the two-strip or four-strip Wing configuration. In a letter dated March 3, 1997, the FAA informed the Safety Board, “We requested that Piper search the DOA files for any indication that the FAA was involved in any such testing,
and the search did not reveal any such tests. Piper conducted stall/spin tests at their Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, facility prior to the issuance of AD 83-14-08; however, only Piper DOA flight test pilots participated, the FAA was not involved in these tests.”