Pilot trekked to find help after plane crash killed child

Rescue crews from the Westpac rescue lifesaver helicopter winch up the injured passenger from the light plane crash at Ewingar on Saturday.
Rescue crews from the Westpac rescue lifesaver helicopter winch up the injured passenger from the light plane crash at Ewingar on Saturday. Contributed by Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter

UPDATE 11:30am Monday: JOHN Crumpton, the Goonengerry-based pilot of the Maule M-5 four-seater which crashed on Saturday, was an "avid pilot" who had recently completed a long distance flying trip to north Queensland.

Mr Crumpton is expected to be interviewed formally by local police in the coming days about the circumstances surrounding the crash.

He is currently in Lismore Base Hospital in a stable condition.

The surviving passenger, a 34-year old father of the 11-year old girl who died in the crash, remains in a stable condition.

Local police have taken charge of the investigation.

Lead investigator, Richmond Local Area Command Detective Sergeant Russ Ewing, said evidence from the wreck and interviews with the pilot and surviving passenger would be passed on to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Police specialists working with local SES crews are preparing for an operation to retrieve the plane, still submerged upside down in the Clarence River.

The plane is now understood to have taken off from Casino Aerodrome early on Saturday morning, continuing to Murwillumbah to pick up the two passengers, and then travelled to the Tenterfield area.

It is believed the plane was tracking back towards Murwillumbah when it hit powerlines about 11am and crashed into the Clarence River at Ewingar.

Casino Aero Club president Russell Kennedy said when he heard about the crash he immediately did a "head count" of the planes and discovered Mr Crumpton's motorbike.

"That's when we realised the Maule was out flying and probably about 1pm [the crashed plane] was identified as a Maule."

Mr Kennedy described the Maule M-5 as a "very safe, well known plane."


ORIGINAL: THE pilot of a light plane that crashed into the Clarence River, killing an 11-year-old Murwillumbah girl, had to trek several kilometres to find help after helping free the child and her father from the wreck and getting them to shore.

The tragically doomed joy flight was returning to Murwillumbah from a day trip to Tenterfield on Saturday morning and was tracking the winding Clarence River at Ewingar, about 20km south of Tabulam when it crashed into the river.

Police have said the Maule M-5 four-seater struck low-level power lines that crossed the river. However, it is not clear whether that was the cause of the crash. An investigation team from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau arrived at the scene yesterday afternoon and were not taking anything for granted.

"If we start speculating on something that may have happened, we have the chance that we might disregard some evidence that tells us something different," ATSB spokesman Stephen Curry said.

"It's really important from our investigators perspective that they turn up there with a clear sky, look at all the evidence, and they use that to determine what happened."

The plane hit the water about 11am, with the child's 34-year-old father and the 53-year-old pilot from Goonengerry, near Mullumbimby, surviving the impact.

It is understood the pilot and the girl's father were able to free themselves and the girl from the wreck before the pilot trekked three to four kilometres cross-country to the nearest house to call for help.

FOUR-SEATER: A Maule M-5, similar to the plane that crashed.
FOUR-SEATER: A Maule M-5, similar to the plane that crashed.

Local SES, police, paramedics and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter attended the scene after 1pm and found the plane upside down and almost completely submerged with only its wheels visible.

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter inserted its medical team to the riverbank via winch to retrieve the girl's father who was later flown to Lismore Base Hospital in a serious, but stable condition.

The child was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are preparing a report for the coroner on her death.

The team of three Air Transport Safety Bureau investigators that arrived on the scene yesterday afternoon would assess the crash site and wreckage to understand how the plane struck the water and conduct interviews with the pilot, surviving passenger and any other witnesses, Stephen Curry said.

They would also retrieve the wreckage, study engine systems for possible faults or failures, and check for any other evidence suggesting what may have caused the crash - although it was unknown whether or not there was any black box style device on the plane.

A preliminary report would be released in about 30 days, with a final report taking as long as 12 months.

Mr Curry said it was too early to begin speculation on the cause of the crash.

CRASH SCENE: Crew winch a plane crash survivor on board the rescue chopper on Saturday.
CRASH SCENE: Crew winch a plane crash survivor on board the rescue chopper on Saturday. Westpac Rescue Lifesaver Helicopter

Topics:  editors picks plane crash

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