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Update 15 May 2021

 

I thought I had run out of leads when I wrote my last article published on my website 24 December 2020: http://www.findlostaircraft.co.nz/page369.html
However, due to Don Readford’s hard work recording witness sightings in his book “Operation Phoenix” (Many thanks Don) there is one that I had overlooked.
I finished my article at Upper Rouchel and obviously got a mind set that MDX had continued traveling south from there. His report of another sighting of it heading east further up that valley to the east I had originally put down to the observer, Reg McDonald, observing MDX flying over the first time at high altitude as his position was only about 5 1/2 nm away from where I had tracked MDX to have flown.
Quoting Don:

Shortly after passing over Upper Rouchel, the late Mr. Reginald McDonald, the then owner of the property called “Bon Accord” located at 32 06’ 41”S, 151 13’ 59”E, observeda single engine aircraft tracking immediately overhead his home and heading in the general direction of Big Lousy Mountain and that of Mount Paterson that Sunday night the 9th of August 1981.
Note he never gave an observed height?

On reflection with what I now know, I believe this was MDX after it had flown over Upper Rouchel at low level – only this time it was also at low level over Bon Accord as given to me in another Report from a friend.
The question now is, why would Mike turn east at low level and fly up a valley towards rising ground?
Presumably many of you have hopefully by now realised that if you want something to be true badly enough, your eyes and your mind will tell you what you ‘see’ is what you want to see. The prime example in this situation is looking for MDX using Google Earth. You see an unusual object that looks out of place with it’s surrounding enviroment, and so then your mind starts inventing scenarios of what part of the plane it could be, when in reality it is just a dead tree, a rock, or the like.
The same happens when you have been flying for a long time in trying conditions. You are longing to see your destination getting nearer and you are looking for comparisons on your map to show you are getting closer. Your mind will ‘fit’ what you see, to what you want to see on the map. Trust me – I’ve done it! Pilots of today generally don’t have that problem now due to the use of GPS... and knowing exactly where you are!

In 1981 GPS hadn’t even been thought of in general aviation...

Talking it over with a few friends, I came to the realisation that Mike and his passengers were desperate to at least land somewhere, and somewhere soon rather than attempt to continue to Bankstown.
They would have been eagerly awaiting to see the last range of hills go past so that they could turn east and head over the lower lying land to Williamtown – the only real option left for them to be able to land safely at a runway with runway lighting.

By then Williamtown would have turned off the runway lights at West Maitland that they had previously told Mike they would leave on, as by then they believed MDX had crashed shortly after the last 5000 call.

Without having a map available to me of what Mike would have been using at the time, it is very difficult to ascertain where Mike may have thought they were, but at a guess maybe somewhere in the St Clair region?
He may have mistaken Lake Glenbawn glistening in the moonlight for Lake St Clair?

In the Report that was given to me, Reg McDonald saw it fly over his place “Bon Accord” about 300 ft above his house. If you place a line on Google Earth starting at Upper Rouchel and go over the top of Bon Accord it takes you virtually directly to the spot where VH-MJA Beech Musketeer crashed in 1976... weird eh? Hence the reason we were questioning on the MDX blog  if anyone had positively identified the wreckage as genuinely being that aircraft... and it turned out photos had been taken of it’s Registration “VH-MJA”– and that proved it.
The spot where this plane was seen at low level at Upper Rouchel has an elevation in the vicinity of 800 ft, and getting close to 1400 ft at Bon Accord. Presuming that MDX was at 300 ft above both positions would mean that MDX was climbing at a rate of about 200 ft/min to be at the estimated height at Bon Accord. If it continued on at that rate of climb up to the end of the valley, it would have gained another 500 ft ... maybe less depending on how strong the tail-wind was. This would place it at 1700 ft over Bon Accord + 500 = 2200 ft.
To clear the ranges at the top of that valley, they would have had to have been at over 3000 ft! This equates to needing to climb at least another 1400 ft in the time available (roughly 2 to 2 1/2 mins – depending on their speed over the ground) – something a heavily laden 210 would be struggling to do I would have thought – especially in those rough conditions.

If my suspicion is correct and Mike thought they were further south with lowish lying terrain ahead of them, he would have been in no hurry to climb faster... just a cruise climb at the most. If there was a fair amount of cloud about, it is possible the fast approaching terrain may have been shrouded by this cloud making it difficult to see in the moonlight (if there was a moon still visible due to cloud cover?) until it was too late... especially if they were relying on the landing lights to illuminate anything ahead as was demonstrated by the observations of many witnesses earlier on.
Not only that, if they had become aware they were in a valley and had flown towards the lowest lying

 

 

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