The wreckage of the 2005 plane crash at Lockhart River which claimed 15 lives.
The wreckage of the 2005 plane crash at Lockhart River which claimed 15 lives.

Safety concerns raised over airstrip after 2005 disaster

SIGNIFICANT safety concerns about Lockhart River's airport were raised by legal experts in two countries more than a decade ago following the horror crash death of 15 people.

May will mark 15 years since the 13 passengers and two crew of the Aero-Tropics Air Services crashed in mountainous terrain outside the Cape York community after flying from Bamaga.

Shane Urquhart (father of victim, police officer Sally Urguhart) addresses the media after the findings were handed down in the Lockhart River plane disaster coronial inquest at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.
Shane Urquhart (father of victim, police officer Sally Urguhart) addresses the media after the findings were handed down in the Lockhart River plane disaster coronial inquest at the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Major legal proceedings followed both in Australia and the United States, including a class action involving 55 family members of the dead, against the plane's manufacturers.

Solicitor Patrick Nunan, who represented the group, said sharp criticisms had been made during the cases - both the coronial inquest in Australia and in Missouri where the US action took place - of the airstrip.

He said the issues were raised in relation to the northwest approach to the runway which "brought an approaching aircraft right over the tallest peak of the range itself".

Wednesday's tragedy, which left five Cairns men dead, involved an easterly approach over the ocean after the pilot had made two failed landing attempts.

The wreckage of the 2005 Lockhart River Plane crash.
The wreckage of the 2005 Lockhart River Plane crash.

But Mr Nunan said the inclement weather, which included heavy rainfall and low cloud, would have been equally risky.

"That terrain in Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea is one of the toughest terrains in the world for a pilot," he said.

"It requires significant skills and a significant model of aircraft with the proper aviation and navigation equipment.

"I know (the weather) can close in very quickly.

"It's horrifying. I feel for them and my thoughts are with them at this time."

Speaking on Wednesday, Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher pointed out the eerie similarity in the weather conditions for both crashes.

Cape York Inspector Mark Henderson with Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher.
Cape York Inspector Mark Henderson with Lockhart River Mayor Wayne Butcher.

He said the weather was "exactly the same" as the day of the 2005 tragedy.

"It might be a good indicator for the future (for aircraft)," he said.

Ironically, after legal proceedings lasting years, the US class action was finalised last month and a settlement was reached.

However, Mr Nunan said they were still awaiting final damage amounts for the family members, some of whom have since died and their share will likely need transferring to next of kin.

"The terms of the settlement are yet to be finalised by the court," he said.

"We're not quite certain what is in the agreement but obviously there will be a confidentiality clause.

"Some certainly are (feeling closure), but the terms of the settlement will probably determine other people's views on the outcome."



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