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Kokoda Gap risky: local guide

The Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea where a charter flight carrying eight Australians crashed, killing all on board.
The Owen Stanley Range in Papua New Guinea where a charter flight carrying eight Australians crashed, killing all on board. AAP Image

“YOU can't fly into cloud or you'll fly into a cloud full of rocks.”

These were the chilling words used by former Goomburra asparagus farmer turned Kokoda Trail tour-leader Soc Kienzle to describe the dangerous conditions when flying to the Kokoda airstrip.

The Kokoda Trail was made famous as it was the first time Australian soldiers fought to defend Australia, not England, in World War Two. Today, the trek is viewed by some Australians as a right of passage and on Tuesday a Twin Otter charter flight carrying nine Australians crashed in dense jungle killing all on board.

Mr Kienzle spoke to the Daily News while holidaying in Cairns.

“It's tragic (the crash and loss of life),” he said.

“The Kokoda Gap (where the plane crashed) is infamous... Very risky to fly (on Tuesday) we had bad weather,” Mr Kienzle said.

As a child Mr Kienzle said Kokoda was his backyard and he knew the area like the back of his hand.

“I've lived here for 33 years, spent three years as a tour-leader and have done four tours this year with one more to go... My first trek was in 1964 (and was completed) in 30 hours,” he said.

Mr Kienzle, who is in his late 50s, said there were two kinds of pilots who flew in Papua New Guinea.

“Good pilots and dead pilots,” he said.

“You can't fly by instruments, you have to look out the window and pilots are tested because they're flying the extreme. Contending with turbulence, high mountain terrain and the weather.”

Warwick resident Jane Grieve made the trek with Mr Kienzle in 2006 and described the adventure as “merciless”.

“Certainly, the most challenging thing was the flight (to Kokoda),” Mrs Grieve said.

“The plane is literally weaving through mountains with only dense jungle beneath; it certainly gave me the horrors.”

However both Kokoda travellers said people should not be put-off by the tragedy.

“Every able-bodied Australian should (Kokoda) walk if they possibly can in appreciation of what it means to be an Aussie,” Mr Kienzle said.

Mrs Grieve said she knew the risks before making the journey.

“I would absolutely recommend it. It's a risk, but a calculated risk,” Mrs Grieve said. “There are many planes who fly through there who don't crash.”

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Tribute: Sunshine Coast remembers Dr June Canavan

Tribute: Sunshine Coast remembers Keith Gracie

Related: Dr June Canavan's tribute to helicopter crash victim

Related: Plane wreckage found

Photos: Dr June Canavan

Photos: Keith Gracie


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