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Weather conditions warrant constant watching, -

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Weather conditions warrant constant watching, says pilot

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 12:18:00

ELEANOR HALL: Peter McGrew is the chief pilot of another commercial operation that flies in PNG
regularly. He's flown the Port Moresby Kokoda Track for almost 25 years.

One of his colleagues was flying ahead of the plane that went missing over the Owen Stanley
Mountains. Peter McGrew joins us now from his home base in the outskirts of the Gold Coast.

So Peter McGrew thanks for being there, what more can you tell us about what may have happened?

PETER MCGREW: I can't really say anything until the proper investigation is carried out, but from
what I got from our pilot was that on their first trip to Kokoda that morning the weather was clear
all the way until they got to the Kokoda air strip itself and then it was particularly poor.

They held for about half an hour, unable to land and returned to Port Moresby to get some more
fuel. They then set out again and encountered poor weather in the immediate Kokoda area but were
able to land on this occasion with a window of opportunity that presented itself which quite often
happens in PNG.

On departure they were actually speaking to the other aircraft and reported the weather to be up
and down at Kokoda. (They) came back to Port Moresby, they then set off on a second trip and we're
unable to land the second time due weather and abolish the rest of the days flying trying to get
there.

ELEANOR HALL: And so did your pilot land then before this other flight, or was that the time when
he turned around and decided it was too difficult to land?

PETER MCGREW: No he landed before the other flight; he turned around the first time, he then
subsequently refuelled in Port Moresby and went again. He then landed and it was while he was
departing Kokoda that he was talking to the other flight.

ELEANOR HALL: So why do you think that your pilot was able to land safely when the other plane
unfortunately wasn't?

PETER MCGREW: The climate conditions in PNG at a place without an incident approach procedure,
quite often the weather clears temporarily and then closes in again, clears temporarily and then
closes in again, and it was just a window of opportunity that presented itself for our aircraft to
be able to land that obviously wasn't there when the other aircraft arrived over Kokoda air strip.

ELEANOR HALL: This plane was from Airlines PNG, what is the flying record of that airline in this
area?

PETER MCGREW: Look it's very, very good. All the operators that exist in PNG at the moment have
multi-national mining and oil company contracts and are a highly regulated environment, audited
several times a year by international companies, Airlines PNG is a safe operator.

ELEANOR HALL: So how hard do you think it will be for rescuers to reach that crash site?

PETER MCGREW: If it's on the south side of Mount Bellamy - which by all news reports it is - it's,
I would be surprised if a couple of the local villages on that side of the Kokoda gap haven't
already got to the crash site.

ELEANOR HALL: You think they would already be there?

PETER MCGREW: I would think some of the local people who know that area like the back of their hand
would already be there.

ELEANOR HALL: So Peter McGrew there are a lot of people saying that they don't hold out a lot of
hope for survivors, what are your thoughts on that?

PETER MCGREW: Probably not a good situation, but there have been aircraft accidents in PNG in the
exact same type of aircraft that I know of over the last decade where everybody survived the
accident so if there's no movement from the air, it's probably not a good sign, if they've
identified the crash site. But that doesn't mean to say that there couldn't be injured people
sitting there undercover. There's first aid kits and everything on board every aircraft, survival
kits. Quite comprehensive survival kits in every aircraft and if anybody's survived it's quite
possible that they're just waiting for rescuers to arrive.

ELEANOR HALL: So there's still hope, Peter McGrew thanks very much for joining us.

PETER MCGREW: No worries.