Plane wreckage retrieved from Clarence River

POLICE divers spent hours on the bottom of the Clarence River at Ewingar yesterday attempting to recover pieces of wreckage from the Maule M-5 light plane, which came to grief there on Saturday.

After a painstaking operation lasting all day, the plane was finally dragged from its resting place and towed upstream to a waiting truck at about 5pm.

The job started about 10am from Yates Crossing - a shallow causeway about 3km upstream - where a flat-bottomed SES boat borrowed from Lismore was launched into the Clarence to venture downstream to the crash site.

The wreck lay in a still section of the river about 20 metres wide, marked by the tyres of the upturned plane and an outline of its underside in the murky water.

It appeared in one piece, but random bits of wreckage were in fact strewn across the river bottom.

At first the three divers spent about an hour taking photos of the wreck site in preparation for the recovery.

The various pieces around the impact zone were then retrieved by the divers, which took at least two hours.

About 15 police, including white-overalled Police Rescue officers, Lismore detectives, and officers from the Air Wing unit, along with local landowners and SES volunteers gathered on the riverbank to collect the bits of wreckage.

A truck with a crane attached could be seen on the road above the riverbank awaiting the chance to lift any wreckage back to Lismore for analysis.

But police were unable to get the entire plane out of the water at the crash site; the hull had to be towed back upstream back to Yates Crossing and hauled from the water.

It is understood the pilot, Goonengerry resident John Crumpton, attempted CPR on the 11-year-old girl who died in the crash on Saturday morning, before trekking, injured, across the bush to the closest property for help.

CRASH SCENE: SES and police divers search for plane wreckage at Ewingar, Yates Crossing, on the Clarence River.
CRASH SCENE: SES and police divers search for plane wreckage at Ewingar, Yates Crossing, on the Clarence River. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Aero Club expert: powerlines over rivers are perilous

POWERLINES are one of the most dangerous hazards for light plane pilots and are a common cause of fatal accidents, according to Lismore Aero Club chief flying instructor Bill Kiernan.

It is unknown what caused the Maule M-5 four seater to be flying below those heights when it struck powerlines across the Clarence River on Saturday morning, crashing into the river and killing an 11-year-old Murwillumbah girl.

The 53-year-old pilot and 34-year-old father of the girl survived the crash.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigation is currently under way with a preliminary report due within 30 days.

Mr Kiernan said powerlines were incredibly difficult to spot and a common cause of fatal accidents.

"Powerlines over rivers are notoriously difficult to see," he said.

"They're not always big tall towers, sometimes they're just one or two wires running across."

Mr Kiernan also said the Northern Rivers, with many small rural landholdings, was one of the most dangerous regions for power lines in rural locations.

Topics:  plane crash

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