The National, Tuesday 10th July, 2012
SEARCHERS who are looking for a New Zealand helicopter pilot and two Australian colleagues, say they are still hopeful of finding the men alive in the rugged area where their helicopter crashed.
The Bell 206 helicopter, operated by aviation charter service Hevilift, disappeared about 4.30pm last Friday in low cloud near Mt Hagen in mountainous and densely forested Southern Highlands.
On board were Australian pilot captain Russell Aitken, 42, New Zealander co-pilot captain Antony Annan, 49, and a second Australian, who has not been publicly identified.
Hevilift spokesman Colin Seymour told The New Zealand Herald seven aircraft were up at first light yesterday searching for the crash site.
“Unfortunately we’ve had no sightings yet.’’
He said the weather was clear and the aircraft would keep up the search until dark.
It was still being treated as a search and rescue mission rather than a recovery operation, he added.
“We’re still hopeful, we remain hopeful and that’s where we are focussing our energies just on finding these guys.’’
In Melbourne, Kelly Aitken and her two children were waiting anxiously for a phone call bringing good news.
“Everyone is doing all they can and have been really good but all I want is my husband.
We are just devastated but we are trying to stay hopeful,’’ Kelly Aitken told the Herald Sun today.
“We are hoping and praying he’ll come back alive. If anyone can survive this it’s him.’’
Aitken said her husband was due home on July 28 from his latest deployment.
Annan is from a well known flying family from the South Island town of Alexandra in Central Otago.
His brother Matthew was killed in a light plane crash in Australia more than 10 years ago.
Central Otago Flying Club president Russell Anderson, who went to school with Annan, said he had previously worked as a top dressing pilot.
Since 2000 there have been more than 60 aviation deaths in PNG in 10 crashes, including a fiery Airlines PNG accident which killed 28 people last October.