the lights of towns out on the coast, then why didn't Mike simply fly towards them? Put yourself in the same position... you've just flown through a real unpleasant ordeal – in cloud with a limited instrument panel... and come out unscathed. You have been fortunate to get back out into the clear. Like being in a dark place (tunnel?) without a light, and then you see a light in the distance... Where are you going to head?..Towards the light of course!
When you read through the original radio transcripts, it is not apparent, but when you look at this timeline of all the transcripts put together according to the stated times, you see that Mike did in fact turn towards the coast... the Controllers talking between themselves said so!!!
The problem now is, which towns did he see?
To work this out, we now have to go over a couple of the other pilot's reports that were flying aircraft in the area at the same time... VH-ESV and VH-CNW.
In a statement to the Accident Investigator, the pilot of VH-ESV said, “On descent from 9000 to Williamtown, he could see the glow of Sydney, the lights of New Castle and Cessnock, Maitland and other towns in the Hunter Valley.” Of his later search, in the same statement, he said, “It was a dark night, he could see shadows in the mountains area but could not tell whether they were mountain tops or cloud.”
The Instructor of the training flight of VH-CNW spoke of the wall of cloud that extended from west of Scone out towards Nelson Bay on the coast with tops at about 7500 feet. He said the air was smooth above 7500 feet, so obviously they had at some point been above this level to know.
The other aircraft in the area towards the coast reported no cloud, so obviously the wall of cloud did not extend as far out as it appeared to the Instructor, and neither did the pilot of ESV observe any cloud on his descent on the Sandon East track - through RP Craven - through to Williamtown. ESV was airborne again about an hour later on an aerial search, and checked out a fire to the east of RP Craven. He reported no cloud in that area, but possible clouds in the Barrington Tops... was not sure if they were clouds or the mountain tops... too dark to tell.
When we depict this information on Google Earth, this is what we get:
We know the cloud started for MDX somewhere just after where Mike mistakenly thought was RP Craven. We also know that the Instructor on board CNW observed cloud that appeared to stretch from west of Scone to possibly Nelson Bay, so over the course of his flight he could see the lights of Nelson Bay. At least some of the cloud must have extended further south probably in the area of the NDB at Singleton, as CNW requested clearance to descend under it.
In the “Radio Comms Timeline” we find that 20 seconds after MDX transmitted he was in a downdraught, Sector One (S1) observed MDX turn onto an easterly heading that he thought looked like about 120°M, but I'd say it had to be quite a bit more than this as he would not have been able to detect a change of only a 10° course so readily seeing as the scale of the radar was not that big and remember that he would have needed at least three paints to notice. (He was already on a course of 130°M) The time of this was 09:34:30 and S1 placed MDX at that time on a bearing of 320°M from Williamtown at 36 nm. It needs to be realised that by now (at least after the Ident time and position) Mike knew he was well clear of Controlled Airspace and so there was no need to ask permission to do a turn, or climb and descend...he was free to do whatever he pleased... so long as he stayed within CASA's NVFR rules. When he called up supposedly west of Craven, he thought he was underneath Williamtown's overhead restricted airspace (lower level 8500 ft) and so that was why he had asked for a clearance to 10,000 ft, however now that he was outside of their airspace, it was then a different matter. It may sound as though this was rather foolish of Mike to not keep the Controllers informed of his intentions but it needs to be kept in mind that he thought he had it all under control. If you have a look at what he said just before he was startled by the downdraught, “We’ve picked up a fair amount of ice and I can just make out a few light towns on the coast. I’d appreciate it if we could, ah, Oh hell, we just got in a downdraught now and we’re down at about a thousand a minute.”
MDX pg 17