Derelict plane had its time in the limelight

The former Air New Zealand DC10, parked at Havana Airport, Cuba, that a group of aviation...
The former Air New Zealand DC10, parked at Havana Airport, Cuba, that a group of aviation enthusiasts hope might be shipped to Wanaka. Photo: Supplied

Just on 40 years ago, Arthur Dovey was in the cockpit of the Air New Zealand DC10 that carried out the most unusual search and rescue ever by a plane with 88 passengers on board.

Mr Dovey is now retired and living, skiing and golfing in Wanaka.

Arthur Dovey with the plaque he was presented with by McDonnell Douglas Corporation acknowledging...
Arthur Dovey with the plaque he was presented with by McDonnell Douglas Corporation acknowledging the ‘‘compassion, judgement and airmanship’’ of the DC10 crew who rescued a lost Cessna pilot. Photo: Mark Price

The plane itself is sitting derelict at Havana Airport in Cuba and is part of a project to bring former Air New Zealand planes to Wanaka for display.

Mr Dovey told the Otago Daily Times this week the DC10 was a great plane to fly.

"They are the nicest airliner I’ve flown; bit like a fighter, in many ways."

And he recalled the day, December 22, 1978, when he, as first officer, was seated next to  late captain Gordon Vette and flight engineer the late Gordon Brooks on flight 103 from Fiji to Auckland.

The DC10 crew got a call from Auckland air traffic control to tell them of a Cessna 188 aircraft piloted by former United States Navy pilot Jay Prochnow.

The Cessna had taken off from Pago Pago and was heading to Norfolk Island.

The problem was, its navigation equipment was not working, and it was lost somewhere over the Pacific.

The DC10 was called on to help find the plane and guide it to safety.

The crew turned towards Norfolk Island and dropped from above 9000m to 3000m.

They were able to talk to Mr Prochnow on VHF radio and, through a combination of where the setting sun was in relation to the horizon, the range of VHF radio and the location of an oil rig, the DC10 crew and passengers eventually spotted the Cessna’s flashing red light about 175km from Norfolk Island.

A "big cheer" went up from the passengers, and the DC10 crew suggested Mr Prochnow might like to follow them to the island.

"And that’s how he found Norfolk," Mr Dovey said, recalling the Cessna had enough fuel left for about 30 minutes of flying.

Mr Prochnow had been flying for more than 23 hours.

Awards were given to the DC10 crew and a movie, Flight from Hell, starring Scott Bakula, was made — overdramatised and lacking reality, in Mr Dovey’s view.

He spent a weekend with Mr Prochnow in the United States but had not heard from him for 20 years.

Mr Dovey said the derelict DC10 was worth nothing now but if money could be found for transporting it back to New Zealand, he believed that would be worthwhile.

mark.price@odt.co.nz

 
 

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