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The hunters in the Kaipo reported that they last heard the plane flying out towards the sea and it seemed to spend quite a bit of time out there off the coast.

This puzzled me for quite a long time until I remembered that Father Syril Crosbie in the missing Cessna 180 ZK-BMP (also recorded on this web site) also did exactly this. Sometimes the cloud packs in against the ranges, and it is possible to fly out to the edge of the cloud  (or find a large hole) and have a look over the tops to see if it’s clear enough to get across the mountain ranges. As the Cherokee was heavily laden with a full load of passengers it’s ceiling would have made it difficult to climb high enough, although in saying this, it was observed by another aircraft at 8,500 ft prior to it flying into the Milford Sound area.

From Kaipo Valley onwards, it gets rather difficult to determine what happened as there is very little to go on, but we aren’t finished yet.

Jenny Barratt, a woman who used to fly gliders (and her husband is an aircraft engineer) was on the beach at the mouth of the Moeraki River later on that day, just before 6.00 pm.

Suddenly a plane that she described as a Beechcraft, came out of the river area flying right over her at an estimated 100ft or less. She said the cloud was down to about 100 ft and it was obviously lower than this. It was also raining at the time and visibility was dark and poor due to the heavy overcast. It flew out to sea for about ¼ mile, reversed it’s direction to the left and came back in. Jenny’s initial thought was that it was going to make a forced landing on the beach, and she became very worried about this as there were heavy steel ropes hung at right angles to the beach that were used for launching the boats with. She thought that they probably wouldn’t see them and crash into them. However the “Beechcraft” carried on back inland up the river again and disappeared from view.

Jenny described this “Beechcraft” as having a maroony -brown coloured stripe along the side of it, so the gold stripe could easily appeared this way in the half light.

Jenny and her husband did not realise that there was a plane that had gone missing until about three days later when they traveled into Haast to get groceries. There they saw it on the front cover of a newspaper, so they promptly visited the Police Station. They never heard anything further of what had happened over their report. The Policeman had since retired, but I managed to track him down, and he told me that he passed the information on to Search and Rescue and all they had to say was that was not the area they were looking for it in, and so had discounted it!

It wasn’t until a couple of months after talking to Jenny, that a friend pointed out to me that the Beechcraft Bonanza looked very similar to the Cherokee Six.

Cherokee Six ZK-EBU

Beechcraft Bonanza

I think that the main reason that SAR had discounted it would have been the time of day that it was seen. It simply didn’t carry enough fuel to be still airborne at that time of day.

As this sighting was very unlikely to have been any other aircraft other than ZK-EBU means that they had to have landed somewhere, and the obvious place would have been the beach at Big Bay - two bays up from the Kaipo. Big Bay has been used as an airstrip way back to the 1930’s. It has plenty of length for a Cherokee Six to land and take off, but is dependent on the tides. I checked on the Niwa web site and found that the tides were in fact unsuitable for Ned to have done this. It was high tide at 11.27am and low tide at 5.43pm.  According to local knowledge, the beach is only suitable for landing/take off two hours before and after low tide. This means that the earliest time that they could have landed safely is 3.43pm which is unthinkable for obvious reasons, such as fuel endurance, etc.  In the Archive files, there is a mention of there being no aeroplane heard in Martins Bay that day, but it went on to say that this was probably because there had been recent flooding there and they very likely had a diesel motor running that would have blocked out any noise of an aeroplane anyway. The next obvious airstrip that they could have landed at is the Haast Aerodrome, or even Mussel Point, but they were not seen at either of these, although they were probably socked in with cloud anyway. Neils Beach is the only other obvious possibility, but this strip is too short for a Cherokee Six, and again someone would have noticed if they did. This really frustrated me for quite a long time until I started overlaying “cloud layers” on Google Earth.

By laying the lower cloud layer at 500 ft and the upper one at 3000 ft, and then “flying” north from Kaipo Valley, I did indeed find a strip that was suitable for a Cherokee Six to get in and out of, and co-incidentally was very visible between these layers.


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