Plane crash pain persists

Wondai resident Winston Burrows recounts the moment he saw the plane go down during the 30-year anniversary memorial of the Wondai Plane crash at the site on Sunday. Sadly, Covid-19 restrictions meant descendents of Kin Kin crash victime Ken Newton could not make it down for the service. Picture: Jessica McGrath 212010_04

By Arthur Gorrie

The sheer ferocity of the air crash that killed Kin Kin father Ken Newton in 1990 is just one of the reasons no-one has forgotten the Wondai King Air disaster.

It has held Australia in a kind of low key but grim and persistent fascination for 30 years.

Then there are the conspiracy theories, the claims of a “secret mission” and the shameful treatment his family seems to have received from the state government and the life insurance company that refused to pay out on Mr Newton’s policy.

His widow, Patricia died of cancer in 2013, virtually penniless, relatives said this week.

The house she and Ken wanted to build never happened. She lived out her years in the only accommodation on the property, a packing shed and caravan.

But she kept the Kin Kin land, on which her daughter Belinda still lives today.

“A secret mission,” some said. “A private journey,” said the insurance company which had only covered Ken’s life for commercial flights.

And because the family received a small third party pay-out from the pilot’s insurance, the government made them pay back Ken’s workers compensation.

But it was a commercial flight, Belinda’s sister Bonny Giddings said this week.

Ken was at work and was on his way to Camden, New South Wales, to advise those involved in what might have been a significant new venture, a game meat export abattoir and integrated grazing operation at Mareeba.

Bonny and her husband Steve have since moved to Victoria, where the coronavirus lockdown prevented them from attending a 30-year commemoration of the crash.

The commemoration was held at Wondai on 26 July, the 30th anniversary of the crash that devastated all six families of those on board.

The crash forged a strangely unexpressed bond among the victim’s families, one which only became obvious through social media in the lead-up to the commemoration, Bonny and Steve said this week.

Passengers on the Beech King Air did not apparently know the pilot had wrongly logged the flight as private, even though its purpose was clearly commercial.

Ken, an agricultural consultant, was advising those involved in the planned new business.

They had landed at Wondai, refuelled the aircraft and had just taken off with a full load of fuel when the plane began descending on full power, ploughing into the ground, witnesses have recalled.

It was a dark night with no horizon and some believe the pilot may have experienced a well-known kind of disorientation, where he may have mistakenly thought he was climbing.

The fireball formed a traumatic image still seared into the memories of those watching the take-off from the ground.

Steve Giddings said the commercial nature of the journey might have been established in court, had the victims’ families possessed the money needed to take on the insurance company.

He and Bonny, who was 28, said the aircraft crashed just after take-off and ploughed what looked almost like an extended runway through the bush adjacent to the aerodrome.

The couple, married relatively recently at the time, attended the crash scene two days later and report that much of the aircraft had been destroyed by heat, leaving lumps of molten aluminium scattered over the ground.

“You could see why no-one at Wondai aerodrome that night could ever forget it,” they said.

Patricia found out about her husband’s death in the very early hours of 27 July, when Bonny’s sister, Belinda saw people with torches in the darkness outside.

She feared intruders but, worse than that, it was Gympie police officers, lost on the long driveway to her Neusavale Rd, Kin Kin home, coming to tell Patricia the tragic news.

The coroner could not determine whether the aircraft or the pilot was at fault, the plane not being equipped with a black box recording device.

“I got a phone call from my father that night (as the plane approached Wondai),” Bonny said.

It was to be the last time she ever spoke to him.

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