Sunday, 3 April 2016

The things you find out walking…Barrington Tops National Park

Caz spots a chunk of metal half buried in the rainforest soil.  Weaving around the next few tree ferns we spot more and more small pieces, some lengths of wiring, plastic and fabric, and now we have our eye in there seems to be stuff everywhere. It intrigues us and we dump the packs and begin searching more closely, rummaging in the undergrowth.  We push and duck under tunnels formed by heavy fronds. Caz pulls up another substantial piece of twisted wreckage with remains of oranges paint on it. I find a labelled section of wiring that finally confirms our suspicions. 

Off-track walking often means you stumble across remarkable and interesting natural wonders, but this find is totally unexpected. Our discovery in the scrub comes at the end of an overnight walk in Barrington Tops National Park. Down through layers of forest – snow gum and banksias along the edge of the range and then dropping through moss-covered Beech forest to one of the rivers in one of the deep valleys.

On day one, our descent ridge pitches downwards in a series of steep slopes, each punctuated by a short plateau, or flat rocky prow. It is three hours of constant downhill: the forest is broken by lyre bird dancing circles – platforms of bare earth scraped amongst the leaf litter. The other repeating theme is roosting spots – patches of concentrated bird droppings beneath high branches, like waymarkers.  

Despite an early start, the day is hot and humid. It is often surprising, how energetic and taxing walking downhill can be. The back of my neck is soon sticky with sweat, mixed with dirt and sticks from ducking under rotten logs and branches. We came across some really big trees: stringy barks then blue gums - towering emergents that break through the rainforest canopy as we track closer to the river.

We arrive at the river at 11:30am and dump the packs to explore downstream. Without testing the water first, we select a swimming hole beneath a small cascade, strip off, and jump in. It is so cold; as if an electric charge has been pulsed across my skin. Everything buzzes. We both manage a second dunking, just to get that tingling, wildly alive feeling again. In the sun drying off we admire the lime green colour of the pools; red stripes in the rock bed, crystal clear water, a lyre bird calling up in the forest behind us. There is just nature, and us alone in it.

We spend the night down by the river before heading out early the next morning, pulling up a different ridge with plans to cut back across the top of the range to our starting point. The way out is much like the way in – steep, changing stratas of forest as we climbed higher and higher, but a gentler gradient in parts. Again: sweat, dirt, lyre bird platforms hidden in the forest, clean open walking and towards the top a nice narrow, rocky ridge line with views along the escarpment.

But, at the very top of the range we come face to face with a wall of tangled, spiky vines. It takes us more than half an hour to negotiate just a few hundred metres and the thick maze of vines forces us into the headwaters of our river as we hunt for a route that is easier going.

It is this forced detour that leads to our unexpected find. We cross the headwaters of our river and breath a sigh of relief as we emerge out of the vines and into some lush, tree fern laden, cool temperate rainforest. It is relatively easy going, although a lot of fending off thick curtains of tree fern fronds. The slower pace of off track walking gives us time to spot the wreckage on the ground. Faded paint on the metal, and Caz's local knowledge of the Barrington Tops National Park, puts two and two together and comes up with the answer – we have stumbled upon the wreckage of the A7-079, one of Australia's CA30-79Aermacchi, which crashed in August 1987 in the Barrington Tops National Park. The suspected cause of the crash was thrust loss and engine icing. The crew ejected at 6,500 ft (and 130 kts) with only minor injuries.

The wreckage, however, was not located for another 8 years and was found by bushwalkers in 1995. This last point gets me thinking. Those bushwalkers could have been out doing the same walk as us. There is really no other obvious, bushwalking reason to be sidling around the headwaters of this creek unless doing a loop walk down into river valley that we have just emerged from. It feels like a rare bit of bushwalking serendipity. 

My initial excitement at finding the Aermacchi wreckage stems from the fact that there is still one plane crash lying undiscovered somewhere in the wilds of the Barrington Tops National Park. What are the chances of stumbling upon that?

On August 9, 1981, a Cessna VH-MDX, with five men on board, vanished without trace. The plane was plane en route to Bankstown and final radio calls had the aircraft descending rapidly near Barrington Tops. The final, panicked transmissions from its pilot suggested things were spiralling rapidly out of control. However, no trace of the wreckage has ever been found, making it the only plane to remain missing on Australian soil since WWII. As such, there is plenty of interest and ongoing searches for the missing Cessna. 

In the case of our found wreckage, the main mystery was identifying its origin. The orange paint was a giveaway, but what remains are small scattered pieces of various material. The main body of the plane has been removed, given that the crash site is only a few hundred metres from the dirt road through Barrington Tops National Park. It was a fun mystery to solve and makes for a good tale on returning from a walk in the bush. It is also a timely reminder to walk always aware, alert, on the lookout. Nature has many mysteries out there waiting for us to stumble upon or solve.

Below are two photos, taken on the smartphone, of the Aermacchi wreckage.

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  1. I thought I recognised the mountain, and then the rest of the description confirmed it. Don't go to the mountain there is no view. Friends went down into where you went but took a more direct route from near the lookout and it was even worse. Barrington has some very impressive vine thickets.

    1. Impressive is a good description, Ken. Fortunately they only seemed to be in the upper reaches of the ridges - all part of off-tracking in the good old Australia scrub. Thanks for reading.

  2. Hi, do you have to coordinates (or a rough location) of the wreckage site? I've been a pilot since I was 15, it would be really interesting to go and have a look!

    1. Hi Toby. Feel free to contact us by email on awildland at gmail dot com if you want more information.

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