fly was to the place many of the aircraft that were in the air at the time were converging
to. Add to that the possibility of getting in the way of a fast flying military jet
that doesn’t know that you are there, and even if they saw you wouldn’t have time
to react, then that would be the last place you would want to be.
On thinking this over with this in mind, the fact that this plane remained low almost certainly confirms to me that they had lost the ability to transmit a position. For those that don’t know, there were no cellphones in those days!!! Of course, as you will see later in this article, they remained low when they were outside of Controlled Airspace, but that could be because of low cloud or maybe better visibility with the ground?
I simply cannot stress this enough... Place yourself in Mike’s shoes for a while, and think what you would do if your radio failed on a NVFR Flight and there was no runways with runway lights anywhere near. What would you do? How would you react? What would be your thought pattern? Where would you fly? What COULD you do? Would you be brave enough to attempt to land on a road, unlit runway, in a dark paddock? Would you even accept when and where you would need to make that decision when there is still fuel in the tanks?
2/ Remember in my last article the observations from people at Stroud, and Stroud
Road (both separate townships), of rain, poor visibility and possible low cloud being
the reason this low flying aircraft was seen by Donna Krane to turn from following
the road and turn east towards the coast? This I believe was due to a bank of cloud
that extended at least out to the coast as seen by Flying Instructor Killingback
who was flying in the SW area below the Barringtons at the time. The only difference
was he was looking at the southern side of this cloud bank that extended north to
the Stroud area. This cloud bank was discredited by the other pilots that over flew
the area around this time, but this is more than likely easily explained by the fact
they were well above the tops of this cloud by several thousand feet and so had no
reason to even take notice.
I believe Killingback was an experienced instructor and was not prone to imagining things... If he said he saw it – he saw it! It may have appeared from his position to extend out to Nelson Bay, but that can be easily explained as a section of the cloud jutting out obscuring his view from being able see further up the coast to the north.
I believe the northern side of this cloud bank extended out to sea at least somewhere south of Seal Rocks, and hence why the low flying plane (as seen by the bulldozer driver) came south towards him, and then turned and headed NW - after seeing this cloud and considering it unpassable if wishing to remain NVFR.
Incidentally, worthy of note... much of this course flown out from the Stroud area was inside of WLM’s Control Zone (perimeter of Zone shown in blue):
So to summarise... they checked out the possibility of landing on the road at Bucketts Way, and again Wootton Way (what is now known as the Pacific Highway), then flew over and checked Wallis Island Airstrip, then attempted to fly down the coast – all to no avail. What options were they then left with?
1/ Back up the coast to Port Macquarie
2/ Attempt to get to Tamworth
3/ Land at Taree... but evidently Taree didn’t have runway lighting in those days.
Of these options, the only two that I know of that had runway lighting were the first two. The obvious safest option would have been back up the coast to Port Macquarie, but as the bulldozer driver said he saw it heading towards the direction of “Mt George, Armidale” area, this option was obviously discounted.
Why? There is only probably three reasons I can think of that would cause a decision to head NW in the general direction of Tamworth over the apparent safer option of Port Macquarie:
1/ Port Macquarie may have at that time shut down for the night, and with no radio to call and ask for the lights to be left on, they may get there only to find they still can’t land... and the same for the airports further north?
2/ The weather. As noted before by the observation of the bulldozer driver, there
appears there was cloud cover at Taree for the lights to reflect off. There presumably
was no cloud cover over Taree when MDX first flew over it earlier in the evening
at 5000 ft (or never noticed and reported it) and at that time was having no problem
with the ADF swinging all over the place. The problems with the ADF started 35 minutes
after passing Taree – at least that was the first time it was reported via the radio
call to the Controllers at 7:25 pm. He then reported 11 minutes (7:36) later the
“compass swinging like blazes” and although many have interpreted the compass swinging
as being in a spiral dive, I feel that both of these were symptoms of the electrical
storm that was observed out at the coast by Cessna 402 VH-ESV who said he was not
surprised as he was also having the same problem with his ADF. At 7:36 when MDX’s
compass was swinging, VH-ESV would have been getting close to landing at WLM so well
south of this. ESV was on the ground at WLM, refueled, and took off again for a search
MDX didn’t complain of the compass swinging at 7:31 – just that he was “averaging (a heading of) somewhere around 220” common in rough air due to the compass bouncing around (also swinging but presumably to a lesser degree than that reported 5 minutes later). It is my belief that the compass was swinging more 5 minutes later due to the fact that at that point they had turned east and were again getting nearer to the electrical storm... not to mention in even more rougher air.
The point I am trying to make is that thunderstorms are known to travel backwards
against the direction of the wind as they ‘suck’ themselves along - and so are not
subject to the prevailing wind!
If this is what was happening at the time this “low flying plane” was at Wallis Lake, then any option to fly up to Port Macquarie would certainly be off the cards!
3/ If you had to unintentionally have to stay at an aerodrome due to bad weather, there is no place better than at a place where you know someone, and I can’t remember all the details now as it was along time ago that I checked this out, but someone onboard MDX that night had a favourite Uncle that lived in Tamworth.
MDX pg 65