Inquest fails to solve mystery of 'ghost plane' that flew for six hours

One of Australia's most mysterious air accidents is destined to remain unexplained for ever. An inquest into the deaths of eight men whose plane flew unpiloted across the Outback for six hours before crashing on a remote cattle station proved inconclusive.

One of Australia's most mysterious air accidents is destined to remain unexplained for ever. An inquest into the deaths of eight men whose plane flew unpiloted across the Outback for six hours before crashing on a remote cattle station proved inconclusive.

The twin-propeller Beechcraft Super King Air 200 apparently lost cabin pressure soon after take-off from Perth, and the pilot and seven passengers were all dead or unconscious as it flew nearly 2,000 miles on a silent "ghost flight" across the continent. Air traffic controllers frantically trying to make contact could hear only the pilot's laboured breathing and were forced to watch helplessly as the doomed plane flew through the night and into oblivion.

It finally ran out of fuel and plunged to the ground near Mount Isa, in western Queensland, bursting into flames.

Alistair Hope, the Western Australia coroner, said yesterday that the men – all bound for a gold-mining town north-east of Perth – were clearly dead or incapacitated for most of the flight. But determining whether they lost consciousness because of oxygen deprivation or inhaling toxic fumes was an impossible task.

Mr Hope severely criticised the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which he said had failed to co-operate with other agencies and did not order full toxicology reports on the victims until a year after the crash in September 2000.

The men, all employees of one of Australia's biggest gold producers, Sons of Gwalia, were returning to a mine at Leonora after a two-week break in Perth. In the final stages of the chartered plane's eerie journey, it was shadowed by several other aircraft that tried in vain to make contact and watched powerlessly as it fell to the ground.

Anthony Ayliffe, a Melbourne air traffic controller, wept as a recording of his last conversation with the pilot, Ken Mosedale, was played at the inquest. Mr Ayliffe tried to contact Mr Mosedale half an hour after take-off, when the plane – which had departed safely from Perth – was at 25,600ft, 600ft above its authorised altitude.

Asked to verify his position, the pilot replied: "Sierra, Kilo, Charlie ... um ... stand-by." For the next nine minutes, the tape recorded only silence punctuated by breathing and background noises as Mr Mosedale's microphone switched itself on and off before going dead. Mr Ayliffe told the court of his sense of hopelessness when he failed to get a reply.

The bureau believes the plane became depressurised soon after take-off and flew on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions