Search Rolls On for Queensland Mum in Plane Crash

By AAP

Authorities are trying to find the body of a Queensland mum presumed to have died during a joy flight to celebrate her birthday.

The 31-year-old, named in media reports as Trista Applebee, was on a scenic flight with pilot Marcel van Hattem when their Soviet-era Yak 52 crashed into the sea off the Gold Coast.

Gold Coast Water Police found the 52-year-old pilot Van Hattem’s body in wreckage off South Stradbroke Island on June 6.

But there have still been no signs of the passenger, the 31-year-old mother of an 11-year-old girl, with crews saying they will continue searching the crash scene on June 7.

Joyride Turned Fatal

More details have emerged about why it took until 1 p.m. for the plane to be reported missing after it took off at 10 a.m. on June 5, on what should have been a short joyride.

“It actually was a birthday flight. The pilot was known to her and providing that flight as part of her birthday celebrations,” Senior Sergeant Jay Notaro told reporters.

Hattem was a well-respected pilot who had been keeping his plane at the Coombabah airstrip for about five years, Aerodrome Manager Steve Rance said.

“He was a lovely guy, a well-respected member of the club. He made sure everything was well maintained and in order,” Rance said.

Southport Flying Club president Neil Aitkenhead says it’s clear something went horribly wrong for the pilot.

Van Hattem was a regular at the club’s airstrip and was well-respected and proficient, Aitkenhead said.

“It’s a tragedy,” he told AAP on June 6.

Aitkenhead said flying conditions were perfect when the pair climbed into the Soviet-era Yak 52.

The plane was spotted flying over South Stradbroke Island about half an hour later and then debris was found in the early evening.

But Aitkenhead said it was a private flight, so there would have been no way of knowing where the pilot had gone.

“He could have landed anywhere. It wasn’t until investigations dug deeper and found it was only intended to be a 30-minute flight that the alarm was raised.”

Southport Flying Club aerodrome manager Steve Rance said authorities were alerted after Ms Applebee’s boyfriend was left waiting at the airstrip for his partner to return.

“He said he was waiting for his girlfriend who had been on a flight that took off at 10am and was only supposed to go for half an hour,” Mr Rance has told The Gold Coast Bulletin.

“That’s when one of our members raised the alarm and we contacted Airservices (Australia)”.

The search was launched on June 6,

The same type of plane plunged into the ocean in the same area 11 years ago, killing the pilot and passenger.

Experienced pilot Barry Hempel and his passenger, Ian Lovell, died when that Soviet-made Yak-52 crashed into the ocean off South Stradbroke Island in August 2008.