FIRST PHOTOS: Last Moments Before Plane Crashes

The ill-fated Cessna 172 training aircraft circled 10 times before it crashed at Delaikoro ridge in Macuata on Monday, it was revealed yesterday. The Fiji Rescue Co-ordination Centre (Fiji RCC)
02 Mar 2018 10:53
FIRST PHOTOS: Last Moments Before Plane Crashes

The ill-fated Cessna 172 training aircraft circled 10 times before it crashed at Delaikoro ridge in Macuata on Monday, it was revealed yesterday.

The Fiji Rescue Co-ordination Centre (Fiji RCC) made the revelation as it pieced together the final moments before the aircraft lost contact with the Airports Fiji Limited (AFL) Savusavu tower.

Pacific Flying School instructor Iliesa Tawalo and student Merelesita Lutu, 20, were on board. Their bodies were retrieved from the wreckage last night by members of the search and rescue team, which was camping at a landing site not far from the crash scene. They would be transported by road to Labasa Hospital today.

The centre said shortly after take-off from Waiqele Airport, the aircraft circled once before it continued on its route to Savusavu.

Minutes later, the aircraft again circled six times before continuing on its journey.

Information received at the centre showed the last visible sighting of the aircraft and it indicated that the duo were tracking west. As the aircraft reached the Delaikoro ridge, it circled four times.

Villagers of Dogoru, who were out on their farms planting yaqona, said they saw the aircraft circling.

They claimed the pair got lost in the fog because of the poor weather conditions before they crashed at the edge of the ridge.

The centre said it suspected that the aircraft had failed to get over the ridge.

When found, the aircraft was seen stuck in between the rocky cliff and some trees.

The height of the cliff is measured at 2033 feet above sea level.

The wreckage was found 18 minutes after the search team left Dogoru Village at 10:20am on Wednesday.

The search and rescue team had cleared a spot about 50 metres from the edge of the ridge where they camped last night.

Access to the wreckage can only be made by using ropes.

Search teams were organised from  the villages of Navakura , Nasalevu  and Dogoru.

As of 8 o’clock last night, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Rusiate Tudravu confirmed that the joint search team had managed to retrieve the bodies of the two victims from the plane wreckage.

The bodies will be transported to the Labasa Hospital by road today. The victims’ families will be at the hospital to identify their loved ones before the post-mortem examination is conducted.

“Due to nightfall, attempts were made to bring the victims’ bodies back down to an area that can be accessed by road to enable transportation to the Labasa Hospital,” Mr Tudravu said.

“Officers will spend the night guarding the scene and the victims’ bodies and they will proceed with the recovery operations at first light.”

Despite challenges posed by rugged terrain and the location of the wreckage, Divisional Police Commander North Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Verani Nakauyaca confirmed that the bodies were carefully retrieved by villagers and officers of the Fiji Police Force, Republic of Fiji Military Forces and the National Fire Authority.

The New Zealand-based Air Accident Investigator, Andrew McGregor, arrived at Waiqele Airport at 5pm yesterday and is expected to carry out his investigations today.

The Fiji Sun has yet to get official confirmation from the Pacific Flying School on the flight details of the Cessna 172.


DAY ONE – Monday, Feb 26

7:30AM – The Cessna 172 aircraft left Nadi International Airport for a scheduled training run to Waiqele Airport, Labasa, with flight instructor Iliesa Tawalo and student pilots Merelesita Lutu and Kalara Derederenalagi on board.

11:30AM – Flight instructor Iliesa Tawalo and student pilot Merelesita Lutu left Waiqele Airport, Labasa, for Savusavu.

11:56AM – Last contact between the flight instructor and Savusavu Tower established where Mr Tawalo informed the tower that they were returning to Labasa. Last location showed to be over Navakuru Hills. No further contact made. Three search parties including officers from Fiji Police Force and Republic of Fiji Military Forces started the search for the aircraft.

4PM – Search teams were at Delaikoro with help from villagers.

6PM – Search party focussing on Navakuru returned to the village hall and called off the search. Search parties also combed Suweni area and Delaikoro but went on to Doguru. At Doguru Village, DPC North SSP Verani Nakauyaca and Commissioner Northern Jovesa Vocea reconvened waiting for the military and police officers to return from their search who were still out conducting search well after 10pm.

10:30PM – Search suspended to resume on Day 2

DAY TWO – Tuesday, Feb 27

7:05AM – Air rescue team of Fiji Rescue Co-ordination Centre (FMSRCC), Navy search and rescue officers, Volunteer First Responder (Fiji) rescue medics enroute with communication gear, drone and rescue medical gear to continue with search and rescue efforts. Additional aircraft tasking coordinated with the Ministry of Defence as search and rescue line ministry.

10:27AM – Forward staging team on the ground in Labasa focused on operations and co-ordinating with Fiji RCC, Police and Airports Fiji. Two aircraft engaged. Ground search team of RFMF/Police combing area on foot.

1:49PM – Air rescue team continues search while ground search teams also cover their search areas. Weather continues to impact operations at times.

6:32PM – Search teams stand down for the evening as the weather deteriorates. However, the Fiji Rescue Co-ordination Centre forward staging team work through the night with the Police Divisional Commander and Airports Fiji planning for continued operations at first light.

DAY THREE – Wednesday, Feb 28

6:29AM – Ground and air teams geared up for continued search. Hope for a break in the weather to cover key areas of search.

10AM – Traditional presentation made to the Tui Macuata Ratu Wiliame Katonivere.

10:30AM – Wreckage of the Cessna 172 aircraft sighted at Delaikoro ridge.

1:45PM – Confirmation that aircraft was discovered by aerial search teams. Consolidated efforts by air and ground teams focus on gaining access to the site.

3:30PM – Police confirm discovery of the victims.

4PM – Minister for Civil Aviation Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum announced the appointment of New Zealand-based Air Accident Investigator Andrew McGregor as the independent investigator to determine the cause of the crash. Frantic efforts being made by the Police forensics and pathology teams to get to the crash site.

DAY FOUR – Thursday, Mar 1

5AM – Team of CID officers leave Labasa for Delaikoro to visit the crash site. The Cessna 172 aircraft wreckage was found on Day 3. The search party at Delaikoro had a series of meeting to discuss how to extract bodies as good weather prevailed.

9AM – DPC North SSP Verani Nakauyaca held meeting with rescue operation team at Labasa Airport board room.

10:40AM – DPC held meeting with six National Fire Authority officers together with their Northern divisional officer Vinesh Kumar as to how to retrieve bodies from the wreckage.

11:30AM – Forensic team and pathologists  (four-member team) arrived at Labasa Airport and left with DPC for Delaikoro.

1PM – Teams were deployed to crash site for the extraction of the bodies.

5PM – New Zealand-based air accident investigator Andrew McGregor arrives at Labasa Airport. He will carry out investigation today (Friday) after being briefed by Commissioner Northern Jovesa Vocea who will arrive in the first flight. He is expected to give media briefing after visiting the crash site.

6PM – One of the two bodies is retrieved from the crash site at Delaikoro.

7PM – The forensic team work on extracting the second body. Police and RFMF maintaining security over night. The team is awaiting return of the field team to get better situational awareness.

8PM – Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Rusiate Tudravu confirms that the joint search team managed to retieve both bodies from the crash site despite the challenges posed by the rugged terrain and location of the wreckage. To avoid risking further lives, the team stayed overnight to guard the scene and the retrieved bodies, and will proceed with the recovery operations at first light.
TODAY – Families of the victims fly in to Labasa to identify the bodies before a post mortem examination is conducted.

Edited by George Kulamaiwasa


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