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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 161392
Last updated: 21 April 2019
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Type:Silhouette image of generic C210 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Cessna 210M Centurion
Owner/operator:Colville Aviation Services
Registration: VH-MDX
C/n / msn: 17262609
Fatalities:Fatalities: 5 / Occupants: 5
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Gondwana Forest, Barrington Tops, NSW -   Australia
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Coolangatta, Gold Coast, Queensland (YBCG)
Destination airport:Bankstown, Sydney, NSW (BWU/YSBK)
On the afternoon of August 9, 1981, a single-engine Cessna 210, registered VH-MDX, was flying south from Proserpine in Queensland to Sydney, via a fuel stop in Coolangatta. On board were four Sydney men - Noel Wildash, 42; Sydney Water Police deputy chief Ken Price, 54; Rhett Bosler, 33; and Philip Pembroke, 43 - who had been sailing a yacht up the Queensland coast and were returning home with the pilot, Michael Hutchins, 52.

All was going well until they reached Taree, on NSW's mid-north coast, when Hutchins requested permission to fly through restricted airspace around the Williamtown RAAF base near Newcastle in order to avoid some nasty weather inland. But before permission was granted, Hutchins decided to continue along his original route away from the coast towards Singleton in the Hunter Valley and then on to Sydney's Bankstown airport. From that point, everything that could go wrong did.

Sometime after Taree, a vacuum pump failed. The pump powered two vital flight instruments - the artificial horizon, which allows a pilot to remain level in cloud, and the heading indicator, which tells him where he's going. Instead of flying east of Barrington Tops, Hutchins mistakenly flew west - and then did a U-turn, thinking he was heading for the coast when in fact he was pointing back towards the dense mountain forests. "He's got problems, this boy," the air traffic controller in Sydney remarked to his colleague at Williamtown as they attempted to direct the Cessna to safety, tracking its progress on their radars.

The crackly recordings between the pilot and the controllers reveal the horror within the tiny aircraft that day as it was buffeted by wild winds. "We have a little bit of a problem, our standby compass is swinging like blazes"; "We're picking up ice"; "Just to compound things, we thought we had a cockpit fire but we seem to have resolved that little problem"; "We just got caught in a downdraft and we're down a thousand [feet] a minute"; "We're losing a hell of a lot ... we're down to six and a half." The plane was being pounded by turbulence and thick clouds restricted the pilot's view and ability to stay level. Snow was falling on the mountains. The plane lacked the power to punch its way up through the crushing downdrafts.

"Mike Delta X-ray," a controller implored, using the aircraft's call sign, "your lowest safe [altitude] in that area is six thousand [feet]." Then came the pilot's terrified, high-pitched reply: "Five thousand ... " And that was it - silence. The controllers pleaded into dead air for a response and scanned their radars. Nothing. Other aircraft were diverted to look but there was no sign of fire below. The Cessna's emergency beacon did not activate.

The following day, an extensive land and air search was launched involving helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and hundreds of men on the ground. They could find no signs of scarring to indicate the plane may have ploughed into the forest. After nine days, the search was called off. A month later, another huge ground search, involving 400 police, army reservists and bushwalkers, failed as well.

In the 32 years since, dozens, possibly hundreds of official and unofficial searches have been mounted to find VH-MDX. Clairvoyants and psychics have been consulted and found wanting. Two men have written a book on the subject, claiming to have pinpointed the spot.

The disappearance of VH-MDX remains Australia's only unsolved aircraft crash since World War II.
A new search operation will take place from 17-21 October 2013.





Photo of VH-MDX courtesy

Old Station (YOSN)
27 May 2017; (c) Ian McDonell

Revision history:

11-Oct-2013 14:55 gerard57 Added
16-May-2014 18:55 Dr. John Smith Updated [Location, Departure airport, Destination airport, Source, Embed code, Narrative]
21-Apr-2019 14:17 Geno Updated [Aircraft type, Cn, Operator, Source]

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