THIRTY-two years after a light plane disappeared over the Barrington Tops and believed to have killed the five men on board, police and emergency services will conduct one final search.
On August 9, 1981, a light plane, VH-MDX carrying five men, including the pilot, commenced a three-hour flight from Coolangatta to Bankstown Airport.
Just after 7.30 that night the pilot radioed Sydney Flight Services having struck severe weather.
At 7.39pm the last call from VH-MDX was received by Sydney Flight Services indicating the plane had descended to 5000 feet – the last communications with the plane.
Over the past three decades there have been a number of searches conducted, all without success.
Starting today, a three-day multi-agency search-and-rescue exercise will be conducted in an isolated area within the Barrington Tops National Park.
Superintendent Peter Thurtell, from Manning Great Lakes Local Area Command and the Operation Wittenoom
Commander, said technology and an unbreakable commitment to find closure for the families of those involved had led to the multi-agency search being conducted for any evidence of VH-MDX.
“Over the years there have been a number of searches, but what makes this one different is we have spoken to one of the original radar controllers to get a better appreciation of what was happening, and perhaps, a more detailed idea of where
the plane was heading,” Superintendent Thurtell said.
“We have also been working with those members of the community who have dedicated many years in bushwalking and trying to locate the wreckage, and drawing upon their experience to identify where
we haven’t searched – and that could be the difference.
“And with the evolvement of online and digital mapping, and cross-referencing previous search areas, we believe we have narrowed the scope.
“We are under no illusion about what we are up against. We know the terrain is rugged, covered by thick canopy where no one has perhaps ever been, but it will test us and if nothing else will enhance our capability.”
More than 150 police and emergency service personnel will take part in the search-and-rescue exercise, including NSW Police Rescue Squad, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Volunteer Rescue Association, the Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad, Ambulance Service of NSW, NSW Rural Fire Service, Police Aviation Support Branch and Marine Area Command, and WYCEN (the Wireless Institute Civil Emergency Network).
Superintendent Thurtell said the families of the missing men had been contacted about the search.
“We don’t want to give false hope but we had to let the families know what we were doing – and they appreciate the effort,” he said.
“If we can provide closure, then that would be extremely satisfying, but if not, at least we can enhance our ability to conduct extreme searches with full-time operatives and volunteers, and that’s something the public can have confidence in.”
The four passengers on the plane were NSW Police Inspector Ken Price, 54, Rhett Bolsler, 33, Noel Wildash, 40, and Phillip Pembroke, 43.
The pilot was 52-year-old Mick Hutchins.
To view the Operation Wittenoom video visit www.facebook.com/nswpoliceforce/posts/10151746932306185