Missing Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte
Missing Lennox Head pilot Paul Whyte

Coronial inquest into fatal light plane crash off Byron Bay

THE circumstances surrounding the death of a Lennox Head pilot whose light plane crashed into the ocean off Byron Bay will be examined in a coronial inquest in Byron Bay Local Court this week.

Paul Whyte was flying solo on March 21 2016 when the Cessna 172L he was flying disappeared from radar about 12km north-east of Byron Bay.

Mr Whyte, an experienced Qantas pilot, took off from the Lismore airport earlier that day.

He had hired the plane from the Northern Rivers Aero Club, and it had just passed a Civil Aviation Safety Authority mandated inspection.

A major search coordinated by the Australiam Maritime Safety Authority was launched following the plane's disappearance, but the wreckage was unable to be located until two months later when a Navy ship was tasked to assist.

The HMAS Gascoyne discovered the shattered wreckage in 73 metres of water, some of which were "as small as a coat hanger", using sophisticated sonar and a mine disposal vehicle.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau did not conduct a separate investigation into the incident but assisted police by examining video footage of the wreckage.

The ATSB completed a review of the video footage and provided a report to the NSW Police Force which was then referred to the NSW Coroner.

The inquest takes place today, and is expected to conclude on Wednesday.