By BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS
SIX people were tragically killed when a Cessna 185 fixed wing aircraft, owned by Kiunga Aviation, crashed early yesterday morning in the rugged Sarawaget mountain ranges of Morobe province.
All six passengers, including two children, died instantly on impact.
The aircraft departed Nadzab and was headed for the Baindoang airstrip when it crashed.
Amazingly the pilot Richard Leahy, who owns the third level airline, survived but was in critical condition.
The charred bodies of those killed are now at the Angau Memorial Hospital morgue in Lae while Mr Leahy was evacuated to Australia for medical attention.
The 63-year-old pilot was found by locals, screaming for help near the wreckage, shortly after the crash.
The bodies of the passengers were retrieved by a search and rescue team ed by the Lae police and medical personnel.
Information received from the ground pinpointed the Bengun hillside, located between Gumbum and Tunam villages (see map), as the crash site.
This rugged location is about a three-hour walk from Boana, the Nawaeb district station, and is 17 nautical miles northeast of Nadzab airport.
At this stage, there are no definite leads to the cause of the crash, but engine failure is highly suspected as the weather was fine and Mr Leahy has a wealth of flying experience in PNG.
Aviation safety management chief executive officer Wilson Sagati described the crash as shocking and said a proper investigation would be conducted by the air accident investigation commission (AIC) of the Transport Department.
Mr Sagati explained that the information presented now was preliminary and based on information gathered from the pilot who heard the distress call.
From these preliminary reports, Mr Sagati said Mr Leahy had radioed Nadzab air traffic controllers at 0605hrs to confirm he was in the vicinity of the airstrip.
“Six minutes later, Mr Leahy sent a distress call and that was the last radio contact,” Mr Sagati said.
A Bell 206 helicopter, owned by Manolos Aviation, picked up the distress call, flew into the area, confirmed the crash site and later flew in search and rescue officials.
Other information received suggested Mr Leahy had aborted landing and was returning to Lae when the tragedy occurred.
On that note, Mr Sagati said that there should be no speculation until the AIC conducted an investigation and confirmed what actually happened.
“We have informed the AIC and it is now up to them to conduct a proper investigation.
“The issue is sensitive, especially when people have been tragically killed, let’s not speculate.”
The aviation safety management is the official authority to release preliminary information on air accidents, because they ensure aviation regulatory requirements are applied.
It is a unit of the CAA.