Cause of air crash a mystery
By HELEN JACK
THE cause of a fatal plane crash off Cape Byron in January 2004 may never be known.
Deputy State Coroner Paul Macmahon yesterday delivered an open finding at the end of a three-day inquest at the Lismore Courthouse into the tragedy that killed two Gold Coast men.
Mr Macmahon said evidence delivered during the inquest, which began on Monday, did not explain the cause of the crash.
The men, John Robert Woodman, 59, flying instructor and owner of Falcon Training Services, and his student, Chris Roger Demmrich, 39, took off from Coolangatta airport on January 27, 2004, at midday in a twin-engine Aerostar on a training flight.
It was revealed the flight was expected to last 72 minutes, during which time Mr Demmrich was supposed to practise single-engine failure, stalls and VMCAs (minimum control speed in flight with one engine inoperative).
However, 35 minutes after take-off, the plane plummeted into the sea at a rate of 4000 feet a minute.
Radar graphs submitted at the inquest and interpreted by expert witnesses gave the impression Mr Demmrich was practising single-engine failure and recovery sequences prior to the crash.
The training exercises were carried out at altitudes between 3000 and 2500 feet, and ground speeds between 90 and 150 knots.
Mr Macmahon said the altitudes at which the exercises were undertaken were not particularly unsafe.
"There is some speculation that Mr Woodman, at some stage, took control of the aircraft and there is speculation as to when that occurred," he said.
"There is also a real possibility Mr Demmrich was in control of the aircraft."
Mr Macmahon said it was possible that during a training exercise something happened with the aircraft reaching VMCA, resulting in a loss of control.
He said that while bird strike, aircraft failure or incapacitation of either or both pilots was possible, it was also unlikely.
"The evidence does not lead me to find any cause to the crash," Mr Macmahon said.
In response to a suggestion the men had staged their disappearance, Mr Macmahon said that between the time the plane began to dive and when it crashed they had no time to exit the aircraft.
The men's wives, Jennifer Woodman and Nicola Demmrich, gave evidence at the inquest and became distressed while Mr Macmahon handed down his findings.
They did not wish to comment on the findings of the%inquest.