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Death on the mountains

Fred Wesley
Thursday, March 01, 2018

As we await the New Zealand-based air accident investigator's findings on the Cessna 172 aircraft that crashed in Vanua Levu this week, there can be no doubts about the interest this incident has had on people.

For three days the missing Cessna 172 aircraft with its two pilots dominated the news.

Families hung on to hope as search and rescue teams combed the mountains where the aircraft disappeared.

The weather had been bad on the Monday the aircraft disappeared.

It was a routine training flight for the pilots. It would have been a short stint to the North before they returned to Nadi.

They had arrived at Waiqele Airport in Labasa where a colleague got off before the fateful flight on to Savusavu.

Villagers said it rained and clouds hung heavy in the sky.

What started out as a flight to clock flight hours for a trainee pilot turned into an air disaster.

As the nation waited in anticipation, the announcement was made yesterday afternoon that the bodies of the two pilots had been found.

Today begins the probe into what went wrong.

Experienced aviators Captain William Gardiner and Captain Rainjesh San described the Delaikoro Mountain range as hazardous for pilots during inclement weather.

Capt San, the Northern Air chief executive officer, said clouds usually formed over the Delaikoro mountain range about 11am on days of clear weather.

He said during bad weather, pilots were greatly challenged when flying over the mountains of Cakaudrove.

Pilots, he warned, need to be mindful of the area because cloud buildup begins in the area around 11am, and during bad weather it can be very challenging.

Retired Capt Gardiner, a pilot for 45 years, said the terrain between Savusavu and Labasa was unpredictable during bad weather.

"When it is bad weather, the pass becomes a real challenge to navigate," he said.

Air accident investigator Andrew McGregor arrives today to carry out an independent investigation on the incident.

There will no doubt be keen interest on his findings.

As we mourn the loss of lives, there will no doubt be questions raised.

Surely there will have to be lessons we can take off this unfortunate incident to help nurture our future pilots.

There will no doubt be issues that should aid future search and rescue teams as well, and flying schools.

It is important though that we embrace any improvement as soon as possible.

We also take this time to acknowledge everyone who was involved in the search and rescue mission, from members of the security forces and other State departments, to the villagers, for their efforts over the past three days. At a time of great disaster, there was unity.

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