Pilot Richard Leahy in Lae.-Picture courtesy of JUSTIN TYLAN of PACIFIC WRECKSThe remains of the Kiunga Aviation Cessna 185 after the fatal crash last Dec 30.-Picture by BUSTIN ANZU
By MALUM NALU
Bush pilot Richard Leahy says the death of six of his passengers on the ill-fated Cessna 185 flight in the Finisterre mountains of Morobe province last Dec 30 is something that he will live with until he dies.
Leahy, who was recently released from hospital in Brisbane after suffering a broken back and severe burns to more than 60% of his body, said on Sunday that he was awaiting the outcome of a Civil Aviation Agency investigation into why the engine failed that fateful day.
“I was released from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH) on March 26, 2010,” he said from Brisbane.
“I was admitted after having been evacuated from Lae by jet on the day of the accident, Dec 30.
“I remain an outpatient at RBWH and visit for treatment four mornings per week.
“This will last until March 2011.”
Leahy also described comments made by Morobe Governor Luther Wenge against him as “unwarranted”.
Wenge stirred up a hornet’s nest when he threatened to have the renowned and respected pilot charged with manslaughter and deported from the country.
“I felt as soon as I became aware that he (Wenge) had made them (comments) that they were unwarranted,” Leahy said.
“I have conducted commercial flying operations in PNG but mainly in the Morobe Province since 1964.
“During that time I have carried, whilst single pilot in command, over 50,000 passengers - the overwhelming majority of whom were PNG citizens.
“Up until Dec 30, 2009, the day of my accident, I had never caused any injury to any of my 50,000 passengers.
“The fact that six died on that day will weigh heavily with me for the rest of my life.”
Leahy said although this was an accident that he could not have prevented, he was awaiting the CAA findings on why the engine failed on that flight.
“If an aircraft is properly maintained and the pilot carries out his duties in accordance with the set down procedures, aircraft engines simply should not fail,” he said.
“Normally, there is some warning if an engine is developing serious problems and remedial maintenance can be carried out prior to further flight.
“With this particular failure, there was absolutely no warning.
“During the 24,000 hours I have spent flying light aircraft around PNG, I had had only one previous engine failure.
“I landed the aircraft in a lake and my two passengers and myself escaped unscathed.
“The engine failure was due to bad maintenance and I recovered monetary damages from the people that I had contracted with to carry out my maintenance at that time.
“Needless to repeat, my thoughts have gone out to the next of kin of those six souls lost on that day and will always remain with them and those that were lost.”
Leahy said about seven minutes into the flight, he noticed the oil pressure dropping off rapidly.
“I immediately turned back towards Nadzab airport, but the engine stopped soon after,” he said.
“I broadcast a mayday (distress call) to CAA at Nadzab and tried to carry out a landing on rough country.
“I do not remember the impact, but clearly recall finding myself on my back outside the aircraft with my legs in the fire.
“I managed to use my hands and arms to pull myself clear.
“My memory from that point on for 28 days is not clear.”
Leahy said he wished to return to PNG after his rehabilitation was completed next March.
“I am and will continue to wear a head-to-foot burns suit until March next year,” he said.
“This suit does not go well in tropical heat.
“At the moment my voice is not good and because of this I would not be able to renew my flying licence.
“If this problem is rectified, I will resume flying.”