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11 May, 2020

30th anniversary of fatal plane crash

At 4.40pm on May 11, 1990, a Cessna 500 Astec Eagle took off from Proserpine airport and started its journey to Mareeba Airport.

By Phil Brandel

At 4.40pm on May 11, 1990, a Cessna 500 Astec Eagle took off from Proserpine airport and started its journey to Mareeba Airport.

Onboard were nine Far North councillors and a nun who had decided to accept a spare seat at the last minute.

The plane lost contact with Cairns air traffic control at about 5.40pm.

The Cessna crashed into Mt Emerald, about 15km south of Mareeba airport, killing all 11 onboard making it one of the worst plane disasters in Far North Queensland.

Onboard were Cairns Mayor Keith Goodwin and Alderman Rose Blank. Eacham Councillors Joe Newman and Hec Wallace. Herberton shire chairman Harry Rankine, shire clerk Elwyn Phillips and Councillor Graham Luxton.  Douglas Shire Councillor Bruno Riedweg , Atherton Councillor Ivan Wilkinson, Sister Nadia Del Popolo and pilot Stan Lindgren.

One of the first people on the crash scene was current Tablelands Division Six Councillor and former Tablelands police officer Bernie Wilce, who said weather conditions were terrible that night “The weather was abysmal that night, very heavy rain, low cloud and non-existent visibility” he said

“I was working that night and at around 6pm I took a phone call from the civil aviation authority saying that it appeared that a jet had crashed in the area”

Councillor Wilce went up the mountain searching for the plane but had to return to the station due to deteriorating weather conditions and fading light.

“I returned to the station and a helicopter from Townsville later found the wreckage”

“First light the next morning we went back up the mountain but we still couldn’t find it, until the helicopter was literally hovering above the wreckage.”

Mr Wilce said that knowing the people on board added a sense of urgency to the search “The deceased were all high profiles member of our community and one of my team members dad was also on the plane.” he said

“Finding the plane was overwhelming, none of the experiences that I’d had up until that time could ready me for the site of the wreckage. We knew straight away that nobody could have survived that crash.”

In 1992 a plaque and monument was unveiled on the corner of the Kennedy Highway & Tate Road, at Tolga to remember the 11 who lost their lives.

Yesterday, Mr Wilce laid a wreath at the memorial to remember those who lost their lives 30 years ago.

“I was in a uniform for 40 years and I still have an incredible sense of community and ownership.” He said

“Because it’s the 30 year anniversary, laying the wreath is a way for me to say we are still here, we are still with you, and it’s a sense of belonging. “

TRC Councillor Bernie Wilce and Mayor Rod Marti laid a wreath yesterday to mark the 30th anniversary of the fatal plane crash.

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