Lennox pilot Paul Whyte may have committed suicide

Missing Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte
Missing Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte

THURSDAY 8.45AM: MISSING Lennox Head and Qantas pilot Paul Whyte deliberately crashed his light plane into the ocean in an apparent suicide.

Mr Whyte, whose death police confirmed yesterday, is believed to have made a final phone call to his daughters before disappearing into the ocean of Byron Bay, News reports.

Mr Whyte was a member of the Australian and International Pilots Association, an employee group for mainly Qantas pilots.

Records show he also represented the AIPA on a Civil Aviation Safety Authority subcommittee in 2007.

News also reports that Mr Whyte was "struggling with a broken marriage".


WEDNESDAY 4.20pm: POLICE have announced they will prepare a report for the coroner over the death of Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte.

NSW Police Marine Area Command are also assessing the viability of underwater search in an effort to find any wreckage connected to the missing plane flown by Mr Whyte.

No signs of debris were located after a 20-hour search coordinated by the Australian Maritime Search Authority concluded yesterday.

The plane was last recorded flying close to the ocean about 11km north east of Cape Byron.

NSW Police Marine Area Command have continued their search but are not expecting to find any large debris on the surface, despite being confident of where the plane struck the ocean.

"What we've been told by experts is the plane was travelling at a very high speed when it impacted the water," Richmond Local Area Command Chief Inspector Cameron Lindsay said this afternoon.

"So you would not expect to find large pieces of debris, it will… be small pieces.

"It's in a very deep part of the ocean there and is beyond the capabilities of the police divers so now we have to look at the use of submersible vehicles.

 "This is the challenge when you start to look at the depth of the ocean where this plane may be.

"This command is now (also) tasked with preparing a brief for the coroner."


1.30PM: IT WAS unusual for a single-engine light plane to be flying 11km from the coastline, according to Lismore Aero Club president Bill Kiernan.

Mr Kiernan earlier said the general flight path taken by missing pilot Paul Whyte was not out of the ordinary, when pressed he said that it was not normal for single-engined planes to be that far from the coast.

He said most single engine aeroplanes did not fly long distances over water except for a particular reason.

"The rules are quite specific, for a private flight like that if you're going to go over water you fly at a sufficient height so in the unlikely event of an engine failure you can fly back to land.

"As an added thing you'd have a life jacket on board."

"I did a lot of single engine flights over water in my younger days, but I'd (also) always have a life raft on board."

"We took precautions… you take the precautions and generally things turn out okay."

On the other hand Mr Kiernan noted the aircraft was cruising at 105 knots, or about 200kmh, so it would have taken just five minutes to fly 11km, or six nautical miles out to sea.

Also the aeroplane wasn't flying directly east, but in a north east direction.

"It wasn't a long way out to sea in terms of aeroplane speed," Mr Kiernan said.

"If you'd ask me if it was normal, I'd say it was unusual.

"But there could have been a very good reason, we don't know."

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter
Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Contributed

12.30PM: THE agency charged with investigating the cause of the presumed crash that killed Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte will face an uphill battle to determine the cause, believes Bill Kiernan from the Lismore Aero Club.

Mr Kiernan said there was too many "ifs" and "buts" surrounding water impacts, which typically broke wreckage apart and obscured the cause.

The search by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was called off at noon yesterday, after which medical officers determined Mr Whyte could have no longer survived give rough seas and water temperatures.

The last known radar contact was made with the Cessna 172 over water 11km north east of Cape Byron about 4.50pm on Tuesday.

Police Marine Area Command are still looking for signs of wreckage from the water, with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau expected to launch an investigation into the cause.

"The ATSB, unless they can firmly put a finger on it, will only be able to give a couple of different scenarios," Mr Kiernan warned.

"Until they can assemble all the facts it's very difficult for them to find a conclusion.

"It's even more difficult when a plane goes down over water, as they need to get all the wreckage out of the water before they can even start.

"They can look at the propeller shape, to ascertain the way the plane hit the water, and they can confirm the engine was running and at what power setting, and if there was any malfunction in the engine.

"If it was an aerodynamic malfunction generally the aeroplane would have hit the water at an usual angle.

"If something's come adrift in the air that would be very obvious.

"But in these conditions for something to fail mid-air is very, very unusual, it's not as if there was severe turbulence it's not as if there were thunderstorms about."


10AM: THE planned flight path undertaken by missing Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte was "totally routine" and there was "no question" about the condition of the Cessna 172 he used, according to Bill Kiernan of the Northern Rivers Aero Club.

The Lismore-based aero club hired the Cessna to Mr Whyte on Monday morning.

Mr Kiernan said it had just passed a Civil Aviation Safety Authority mandated inspection and was used the day prior by one of the club's instructors.

"The other interesting thing is it had just been fitted with the latest surveillance equipment (so) they can tell exactly where it flew when it flew and how fast it was going," Mr Kiernan said.

"That information was the basis for the preliminary search."

Mr Kiernan said Mr Whyte dealt with one of the senior pilots at the club, who checked his licence, medical currency, and conducted a pre-flight inspection of the rental aeroplane.

He was due to fly for an hour or two locally, meaning within about 40km of the Lismore airport.

Mr Kiernan said Mr Whyte regularly flew from Lismore.

"We know he normally goes down to the beach which is a fairly common scenic route," he said.

"Most will fly east and up to Byron Bay, then fly inland over scenic country."

"We do that at least two or three times a week.

"It was a totally routine flight."

Authorities search for a Lismore plane that crashed off the north coast.
Authorities search for a Lismore plane that crashed off the north coast.

9.40AM: The pilot feared killed when a plane that left Lismore airport on Monday crashed off the north coast was a commercial pilot from the Northern Rivers.

Paul Whyte was reportedly flying a Cessna 172 hired from a Lismore business, and it was last seen on radar about six nautical miles (11km) north east of Byron Bay at around 4.50pm on Monday.

Mr Whyte was from Lennox Heads.

The flight was understood to have been "routine".

Investigations are continuing today.


WEDNESDAY 8AM: AUTHORITIES are expected to release more information on a missing Lismore plane that is suspected of crashing off the North Coast.

One man was on board when the aircraft crashed. Last contact with the plane occurred north-east of Byron Bay about 4.50pm Monday.

Search crews scoured the area for more than eight hours but could not locate the aircraft.

The search was called off at 1pm yesterday with authorities stating that it was not possible for the pilot to have survived.

NSW Police Marine Area Command remained in the area and is conducting further investigations.


TUESDAY 1.30PM: The pilot on board a light plane missing from Lismore could not have survived, according to rescue crews searching for the aircraft.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority called off the search for the missing pilot at 1pm.

"Considering water temperature and sea conditions in the area, expert medical advice indicates that the pilot could not have survived beyond midday today," a press statement read.

"The search for the missing pilot concluded at 1 pm today."

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has been conducting a search for a light aircraft missing off the northern NSW coast. 

About 4.20pm yesterday a Cessna with one person on board departed Lismore for a short flight with a plan to return to Lismore.

About four hours later AMSA received advice from Airservices Australia regarding concerns for a pilot and aircraft which had not returned to Lismore.

AMSA tasked a helicopter from Lismore to conduct an initial search.

Overnight, AMSA's Joint Rescue Coordination Centre reviewed air traffic services radar information from the area, provided by AirServices Australia. The information confirmed that the last contact with the plane occurred six nautical miles north-east of Byron Bay at about 4.50 pm on 21 March.

Air search operations continued today with five helicopters and AMSA's Cairns-based Dornier search and rescue aircraft. AMSA also tasked a NSW Police vessel from Coffs Harbour and a Volunteer Marine Rescue boat from Ballina, to conduct a surface search of the area. The search focused on the last known position, in waters north-east of Byron Bay.

NSW Police Marine Area Command will stay in the area and conduct further investigations.

AMSA would like to thank the search helicopter crews, NSW Police and Volunteer Marine Rescue for their assistance in the search.

A search crew is scouring for a light plane missing from Lismore since last night.
A search crew is scouring for a light plane missing from Lismore since last night.


1PM: AUTHORITIES say rough seas are hampering the search for a Cessna 172 which disappeared off the coast of Byron Bay last night.

Gold Coast Bulletin has reported that the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service Gold Coast deputy chief pilot Peter Bird said search parties had limited information about the plane's activities, making the job of locating the aircraft even tougher.

"Conditions out there, out further it's quite rough, quite a few showers going through, a lot of white water and probably 3m seas.

"It makes it a little bit harder to see if something is there, he told The Gold Coast Bulletin.

The search was narrowed to between off South Ballina and Evans Head last night.


11.30AM: WATER Police and Marine Rescue have deployed vessels to conduct a surface search for a plane that has been missing from Lismore since last night.

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter has just refuelled at Ballina Airport and will be resuming the search along the coastline between Ballina and Evans Head.

Both rotary and fixed wing aircraft are in the sky as part of the search from the air.


10AM: SEARCH authorities have used state-of-the-art technology to narrow the search for debris of a missing plane to south of Ballina and Evans Head.

Data from the self locating datum marker buoy (SLMDC), which determines ocean drift, has estimated any debris   from the Cessna 172 could have travelled a large distance from its last radar recording 6 nautical miles from Cape Bryon, off Tyagarah.

The buoy was dropped in the ocean last night by Westpac Life Saver Helicopter.


9AM: A Rescue Helicopter is in the air, searching for a missing Lismore plane off the coast of the Ballina Byron area.

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was tasked at about 9:45pm last night by the Australian Search and Rescue Centre (Aussar) to conduct a visual search for a reported overdue light aircraft in the Ballina Byron area.

The aircraft had earlier departed Lismore Aerodrome for a local flight and had not returned as expected.

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter completed a search off the coastline from Ballina to Byron Bay and seawards utilising Night Vision Goggle (NVG) search equipment as well as homing for any possible Emergency Locator Beacon (ELB).

There was no sighting or detection of the overdue aircraft during the search and The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter returned to base at 23:00.

A continued upgraded search has commenced as of first light this morning. Bill Keenan, chief flight instructor of the Lismore at the Northern Rivers Aero Club would not make any comment regarding who may be inside the plane.

He did say that the Cessna 172 model was a very common model.

Cessna life! #instagramaviation #aviationlovers #aviators #northernriversaeroclub #cessna #cessna172 #lismorenimbintourism #flight #avgeek #northernrivers

Posted by Northern Rivers Aero Club on Tuesday, January 26, 2016


8AM: A DRAMATIC search is under way across the Northern Rivers for a light aircraft that left Lismore Airport last night and has not been seen since.

Crew members from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter are currently being briefed before they continue searching this morning.

A spokesman from the rescue helicopter said the search would focus on an area 7km north east of Cape Byron.

He said the plane, a Cessna 172, left the Lismore Aerodrome late yesterday afternoon and had not returned.

It is understood there was just the pilot on board.

Topics:  aircraft editors picks light plane plane search westpac helicopter

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