Fatal crash memorial an eerie reminder 34 years on

 

SEATING and fuselage fragments from a light plane that plummeted into the side of Mount Williams in 1986 serves as an eerie reminder of an aviation disaster almost forgotten by popular memory.

A final radio call from the ill-fated Piper Navajo was received at 2.12pm, just minutes before the light plane failed to climb through thick cloud enveloping the summit of Mount Williams in the Redlynch Valley and hit a ridge line, 250m southwest of the summit.

Crash wreckage from the Piper PA31 Navajo that crashed into Mount Williams in 1986. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
Crash wreckage from the Piper PA31 Navajo that crashed into Mount Williams in 1986. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

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Seven passengers and the pilot were killed in an instant.

Today marks 34-years since one of the worst Far Northern aviation disasters ended the lives of Melbourne holiday makers Stephen Higgenbotham, Timothy Jones, Antoinette Spencer, David Syme, Susan Hille, Jennifer O'Reagan, Andrew Summers and Colin Wenzel.

A plaque dedicated to the memory of crash victims Stephen Higgenbotham, Timothy Jones, Antoinette Spencer, David Syme, Susan Hille, Jennifer O’Reagan, Andrew Summers and Colin Wenzel. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
A plaque dedicated to the memory of crash victims Stephen Higgenbotham, Timothy Jones, Antoinette Spencer, David Syme, Susan Hille, Jennifer O’Reagan, Andrew Summers and Colin Wenzel. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

On a windy and cloudy morning on September 2 the pilot of the twin prop aircraft submitted a flight plan but a key error was never detected.

The flight plan revealed the trip to Mount Isa would be flown under instrument flight rules but details of the first segment from Cairns to Biboohra were never provided.

According to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau report the pilot didn't understand terms of the clearance but took off under visual procedures. Witnesses report seeing the plane heading southwest before turning northwest and disappearing into a cloud base at 760m.

A 1986 front page Cairns Post story two days after a Piper Navajo crashed into the side of Mount Williams west of Cairns.
A 1986 front page Cairns Post story two days after a Piper Navajo crashed into the side of Mount Williams west of Cairns.

The summit of Mount Williams is 1167m. The report stated the plane appeared to be under control at the time of impact.

"It was likely that the pilot had overlooked the lowest safe altitude requirements," the report stated.

The Piper PA31 Navajo bearing tail number VH-CJB that hit the side of Mount Williams in 1986 killing all eight occupants.
The Piper PA31 Navajo bearing tail number VH-CJB that hit the side of Mount Williams in 1986 killing all eight occupants.

Thirty-four years on a memorial plaque, Tibetan prayer flags and fragments of the plane including an intact chair occupied by a terrified passenger leading up to the crash serve as an eerie reminder.

At such an altitude a mild day on the coast can be windy, wet and spooky when covered in cloud. This was the kind of day that greeted Cairns Post photographer Brian Cassey when he was sent the photograph the crash site.

Misty and conditions near the summit of Mount Williams. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
Misty and conditions near the summit of Mount Williams. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

"It was lousy weather and we took a while to find any trace of it and when we did find it you couldn't see much of the wreckage," he said. Given the high level of interest in the Mount Emerald plane crash only four years later, Mr Cassey said the Mount Williams crash had almost been forgotten by comparison.

A seat belonging to the Piper PA31 Navajo that crashed and killed eight people in 1986. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS
A seat belonging to the Piper PA31 Navajo that crashed and killed eight people in 1986. Picture: PETER CARRUTHERS

Originally published as Fatal crash memorial an eerie reminder 34 years on

Safety improvements were called for following the death of eight people in the Mount Williams plane crash in 1986.
Safety improvements were called for following the death of eight people in the Mount Williams plane crash in 1986.


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