Hope still alive for missing NZ pilot

Antony Annan (third from left) after gaining his private pilot's licence in 1993. The 1998 ODT...
Antony Annan (third from left) after gaining his private pilot's licence in 1993. The 1998 ODT report of his brother Matthew's death. Photo by the Otago Daily Times.
More specialised search equipment will be used today in the hunt for a former Alexandra pilot and two Australian colleagues in dense Papua New Guinea jungle.

Antony Annan (49) and his two Australian colleagues have not been seen since shortly before their Bell 206 helicopter was reported missing on Friday afternoon.

Helicopters Otago managing director Graeme Gale said Mr Annan had worked for him before heading overseas.

"He is an extremely good guy and well-respected," he said.

Now based in Australia with his partner, Mr Annan had been working for Singapore-based charter company Hevilift for more than 10 years.

"We can only just hope that something really good comes out of it, that they can in fact find the aircraft and they just need picking up. That would be the best outcome," Mr Gale said.

"But it's an extremely difficult country and extremely difficult terrain and that's the downside to it. We are certainly thinking of the family and Ants at this time."

Mr Annan's brother, Matthew, died in a top-dressing plane crash in Australia in 1998, aged 28. He survived a car accident in 1991, which left him paralysed, and pursued a career in flying.

Antony Annan gained his private helicopter pilot's licence in Dunedin in 1993.

He told the Otago Daily Times at the time his intention was to enter the commercial arena.

When living in Alexandra, Mr Annan flew fixed-wing aircraft, often for agricultural spraying.

The brothers' passion for flying was instilled by their father, Bill, who died in 2004. He was an enthusiastic flyer who spent many hours in Cessna 172 planes, and was president of the Central Otago Flying Club.

Mr Annan's stepmother lives in Alexandra. The family declined to comment when contacted.

The search has been in rugged jungle terrain in the mountainous Enga Province.

Hevilift managing director Colin Seymour said the helicopter was reported missing somewhere near the town of Wabag.

About five minutes after it left the InterOil Drill Rig, a mayday call was broadcast. It is believed the men were heading to Hou Creek to refuel and intended to return to their base at Mt Hagen.

There was low cloud and reduced visibility at the time of the crash and the pilots were operating under visual flight rules.

Mr Seymour said the cause of the crash was unknown and he would not comment on company protocol for flying in dangerous conditions.

Hevilift managing director Paul Booij said the aerial search "needs to be methodical".

"We have ... been following a grid search pattern to ensure that we do not miss an area within the search envelope," he said.

The searchers had heavy hearts, but were not giving up on the men.

He dismissed claims the conditions were dangerous.

Mr Booiji said searchers today would use a helicopter fitted with a magnetometer - a sensor that measures disturbances in the earth's magnetic field caused by large mineral deposits. The Bell 206 helicopter had enough ferrous material to be "seen" by one of the machines.

New Zealand Defence Force Papua New Guinea adviser Lieutenant-colonel Richard Taylor said search teams had a very "difficult task" ahead of them.

Often, with helicopter crashes, the blades "sheared off" and the wreckage fell into the dense jungle canopy, making it difficult to find, he said.

"In reality, we are still finding wreckages from World War 2. It's a very large and very difficult area to locate aircrafts in ... and helicopters can be even harder to find."

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force had offered ground search personnel to help in the rescue effort. However, Mr Taylor said the search area had not been narrowed down yet.

"At a time when they have located or believe they are close to locating the wreckage, then ground search personnel will be involved."

As well as captain Annan, also on board were pilot captain Russell Aitken (42), an experienced flyer and hero of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires, and engineer Emmett Fynn (36).


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