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Airline boss Les Wright and maritime pilot Chris Hart believed dead in PNG plane crash

Les Wright

September 01, 2010

(KATAKAMI / DAILY TELEGRAPH)  — AVIATION identity Les Wright and maritime pilot Chris Hart have been identified as two of three Australians killed in a plane crash in Papua New Guinea yesterday.

Father of three Chris Hart was a passenger on board the Trans Air plane which slid off a wet runway on Milne Bay Province’s Misima Island and burst into flames on Tuesday afternoon.

The 61-year-old Sydney man was on his way to guide a ship from Misima, about 500km southeast of Port Moresby, through the Great Barrier Reef.

Two other Australians – one believed to be Trans Air owner Les Wright and the other a worker for medivac company International SOS – and a New Zealander also died.

Don Mclay, from Australian Reef Pilots, told reporters in Brisbane Captain Hart was a “supreme professional” and mentor for younger boat pilots.

The former British navy submariner worked for cruise ship firm P&O, where he met his wife Hilary.

Chris Hart

After a secondment to the Maritime Services Board in Sydney, Capt Hart joined Howard Smith and returned to sea in the firm’s merchant shipping division.

He became a coastal pilot with Australian Reef Pilots in 1997.

Mr Mclay said Capt Hart took great pride in his two daughters and son.

“While his duties meant he was frequently away from home he made sure he always had quality time with them,” Mr Mclay said.

“We have lost a respected friend and colleague. We will always remember Chris’ quirky sense of humour, his passion as a chef and his insatiable love for country and western music.”

Messages on pilot blog sites have confirmed that members of the Trans Air company, the owner of the Cessna Citation plane, were onboard when it crashed on Misima Island – 500km south-east of Port Moresby.

The Trans Air plane slid off a wet runway about 4.30pm yesterday killing four men. The pilot is in hospital with serious injuries.

An International SOS spokesman said the aviation company was speaking to family and that they had ‘lost a staff member’.

Sources have told local journalists that Les Wright “was also on board the plane”.

The plane that crashed was used by Mr Wright as a charter and medivac aircraft.

His previous Australian company Transair, which has gone into liquidation, operated the plane that crashed at Lockhart River in North Queensland in 2005, killing 15 people.

In 2007, Coroner Michael Barnes blamed pilot Brett Hotchin and airline Transair for the Lockhart crash.

Mr Wright was chief pilot at the time. He later moved to PNG to start a new company.

A total of three Australians and one New Zealander died in the plane crash.

The pilot, a New Zealand citizen who lives in Australia, is recovering in hospital.

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