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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kiwi air crash survivor sent to Australia

The sole survivor of a plane crash in Papua New Guinea that took the lives of three Australian and one New Zealander has been evacuated to Australia.

Among the dead were Chris Hart, 61, from Sydney, who was a passenger on board the plane, and Trans Air co-owner Les Wright, from Queensland.

The third Australian has been named on a pilots' internet forum as Darren Moore, from Leonora in Western Australia.

The fourth victim, an employee of medivac company International SOS, was believed to be the New Zealander.

The survivor, another New Zealander who is a permanent resident of Australia, arrived in Port Moresby this afternoon on a charter flight from Misima Island in PNG's Milne Bay Province.

The unnamed man, believed to be the co-pilot of the doomed Cessna Citation aircraft, was immediately whisked onto another plane and flown out of PNG to an Australian hospital for medical treatment for "heavy bruising" injuries.

His miraculous escape happened on yesterday afternoon when the Trans Air charter plane overshot the Misima runway while landing in heavy rain and crashed into trees, bursting into flames.

Australian and New Zealand diplomatic staff flew to Misima Island today to supervise the retrieval of the bodies and to inspect the crash site.

They were joined by PNG Air Accident Investigator Sid O'Toole and other officials.

Civil Aviation Authorities in PNG said it was still too early to say what went wrong but guaranteed a full and complete investigation.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed her condolences over the crash

"I offer my condolences to the families of the three Australians that would be grieving the loss of a loved one today," she told reporters in Canberra today.

"Can I also offer our condolences to the New Zealand family that has lost a loved one.

"And can I wish a speedy recovery and a return to good health to the New Zealand citizen, Australian resident who has been injured."

Earlier today, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Perth the Australian Transport Safety Bureau was ready to help PNG authorities work out what exactly went wrong.

"We regrettably have a lot of experience with plane crashes in PNG and we have in the past and I expect on this occasion will work closely and successfully with PNG officials," he said.

Mr Smith referred to last August's PNG plane crash that took 13 lives including nine Australian Kokoda trekkers.

"(This crash) follows on very closely from the first anniversary of the Kokoda air crash, so this will be painful not just for the families of the five involved but a painful reminder of the Kokoda air crash".

An aviation industry source told AAP co-owner "Les Wright from Trans Air was on board and died".Mr Smith confirmed three Australians and one New Zealander died, including an employee of the Trans Air charter company.

Trans Air, which runs a charter and medivac service in PNG, is linked to the now defunct Australian airline Transair, which went into liquidation after a 2005 crash at Lockhart River in north Queensland in which 15 people died.

Medivac company International S0S, which shares a Port Moresby hangar with Trans Air, confirmed a staff member also died.

"We have lost a staff member, at this difficult time our thoughts are with the family," a spokesman said.

Members of a professional pilots' internet forum posted tributes to Mr Moore today, with one saying: "Darren unfortunately lost his life in the accident at Milne Bay yesterday".

"Fly high old mate, you've touched the lives of a great many people and will be sorely missed," one friend said about Mr Moore, who it's believed worked for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of PNG.

Father-of-three Chris Hart was a maritime pilot who was on his way to guide a ship from Misima, about 500km southeast of Port Moresby, through the Great Barrier Reef.

Don McLay, from Australian Reef Pilots, told reporters in Brisbane that Captain Hart was a "supreme professional" and mentor for younger pilots.

"We have lost a respected friend and colleague. We will always remember Chris' quirky sense of humour, his passion as a chef and his insatiable love for country and western music," he said.

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