THE close-knit community of Inverell has been rocked by the death of a much-loved local kindergarten teacher after a fiery plane crash on Friday afternoon.
Just three days after celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, Inverell Public School teacher Caro Harding and her husband Mark – a local GP – were in the family’s Cessna 210 plane when it crashed moments after take-off.
The plane, which was being piloted by Dr Harding, burst into flames soon after impact.
Despite the heroic actions of a mystery bystander who dragged the Hardings from the wreckage, the couple suffered horrific burns and were later airlifted to Royal North Shore Hospital.
Mrs Harding, 47, died in hospital about 12.20am on Saturday, while her husband remains in a critical condition with burns to his hands and lower body.
Their 13-year-old daughter, who was also in the plane, escaped with minor burns to her legs.
Tributes have poured in for Mrs Harding, who is being remembered as a loving wife, devoted mother and passionate teacher.
“Caro was a fabulous teacher ... my daughter loved her dearly, she will be sadly missed,” Inverell mum Tanya Barrett posted on Facebook.
Inverell mayor Paul Harmon described the Hardings as a “lovely family” and said the accident had pierced the hearts of the community.
“The community as a whole is grieving ... it’s an absolute tragedy,’’ he said.
“They are such valued members of our community and it’s been a really difficult few days.
“Unfortunately, when there’s a major tragedy like this, there’s a big chance you will know the people involved.
“The whole community is saddened by the tragic loss of Mrs Harding. She was an absolutely lovely lady.’’
Investigators from the Australian Transport and Safety Bureau will examine the site and the wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.
A witness described it as “like a pebble skipping across the water”.
“There was a man who just stopped dead in the road and then he just ripped his shirt off and pulled people out of the plane,’’ eyewitness Jade Olds said.
“I just saw them getting taken out of the plane – it didn’t look pretty ... and then the plane just went ka-boom and there was fire everywhere.”