Plane wreckage to be retrieved today

CRASH SCENE: Rescue crews from the Westpac rescue lifesaver helicopter winch up the injured passenger from the light plane crash at Ewingar on Saturday.
CRASH SCENE: Rescue crews from the Westpac rescue lifesaver helicopter winch up the injured passenger from the light plane crash at Ewingar on Saturday. Westpac Rescue Life Saver Helicopter

THE wreckage of the light plane that crashed on Saturday morning is expected to be retrieved from the Clarence River this morning in a major operation involving specialist police.

The Maule M-5 four seater is currently upside down and almost fully submerged in about 2m of water with only its wheels visible.

Lead investigator, Detective Sergeant Russell Ewing of Richmond Local Area Command, said Police Rescue crews had surveyed the crash scene on Sunday and again yesterday to plan an effective retrieval operation.

The terrain around the river where the plane crashed is marked by steep cliffs, which has forced emergency services crews to access the riverbank on foot.

Det Sergeant Ewing said it was hoped the plane would be hauled out of the water with the help of police divers and towed upstream.

It would be then collected at a point called Yates Crossing about 3km north of the crash site and put on the back of a truck.

The local SES crew from Tabulam was also expected to be involved in the operation.

Tabulam SES unit volunteer Heath O'Malley said the 20-volunteer crew was "there to support whichever organisation needs us".

Eight SES volunteers had supported the rescue operation on Saturday and on scene assistance and aiding communications between emergency services on the scene and their headquarters.

Det Sergeant Ewing said the pilot, 53-year-old John Crumpton had been spoken to by police about the crash at Lismore Base Hospital and would be formally interviewed as early as Thursday.

The surviving passenger, in a stable condition, would also be interviewed when possible.

There were no plans at this stage to release the names of the 11-year-old who died in the incident or her father, even though the family had been notified.

"Obviously everybody's in a very vulnerable state at the moment," Detective Sergeant Ewing said.

The Air Transport Safety Bureau had prepared to send an investigation team to the area on Sunday, but based on interviews of the pilot by local police "deemed it unnecessary", said an ATSB spokeswoman.

"Our investigation is continuing in consultation with police and the power company," she said.

"They have photos of the powerlines."


Upper Clarence River popular but treacherous for flying

THE Upper Clarence River has a history of flying accidents, according to Casino Aero Club president Russell Kennedy.

The river valley offers a diverse terrain for recreational pilots, including woodland, pasture, and rolling hills and cliffs, with the mighty Clarence presenting a spectacular feature from the sky.

Mr Kennedy said it was a popular area for pilots to fly over, but also a treacherous one due to the frequency of power lines.

"There's hidden wires all over the place," Mr Kennedy said.

"Some of the wires are up to 300 feet high; strung from high cliffs and rolling down.

"That river along there if you look into your history… there's been a lot of prangs.

"It's claimed a few."

Why the plane was flying so low is unknown, although Mr Kennedy said there were many possible reasons, including scouting for an emergency landing.

Mr Kennedy said the veteran pilot, Goonengerry resident John Crumpton, had stored his plane at the Casino Aerodrome for a little over a year.

The plane took off from there early on Sunday morning before picking up the 34-year-old father and 11-year-old daughter from Murwillumbah and continuing on to the Tenterfield area.

It was flying back in a general easterly direction when it crashed into the river about 11am, reportedly moments after striking power lines.

The 11-year-old girl died in the crash.

As soon as he received news about the crash, Mr Kennedy did a "head count" of the planes in hangars at Casino.

"That's when we realised [his] Maule was out flying, and probably about 1pm it was identified as a Maule," he said.

Mr Kennedy described Mr Crumpton as an "avid flyer" who had recently gone on an extended flight to north Queensland.

The Maule M-5 four seater owned by Mr Crumpton was also known as a safe and reliable plane.

"It can get in and out of tight places; a terrific performer," Mr Kennedy said.

"They use them at high altitudes because they're renowned for their horsepower. They're a tough old workhorse."

Mr Crumpton's plane, registration VH-HOG, was also well kept.

"My plane you would describe as average to good condition; this one was in showroom condition," Mr Kennedy said.

Topics:  clarence river plane crash

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