Missing Cessna VH-MDX : Where in Barrington Tops is it?

Do a search for “VH-MDX” in Google and you’ll find all sorts of things. Unfortunately, what you won’t find (yet) is the location of this missing Cessna aircraft, that disappeared over Barrington Tops National Park, north-west of Sydney in August 1981.

It truly is Australia’s greatest aviation mystery and one that has confounded everyone from search & rescue and aviation experts, locals, bushwalkers and conspiracy theorists for over 30 years.

The main reason I started this blog was to encourage people to get out into the great outdoors and to demystify some of the dark arts of moving and living in our wild places.

But I also want to use my blog to encourage people with the necessary skills and experience to get involved through volunteering in their local outdoors community.

I produced this video above to give a glimpse into some of the work that has gone on behind-the-scenes this year to help bring closure to this long standing mystery. To hopefully answer some of the unanswered questions.

For many years, Bushwalkers Wilderness Rescue Squad has been running an annual SAREX (Search and Rescue Exercise) in different parts of this rugged and wild National Park, to not only test and train ourselves, but to inch closer to knowing the truth.

Each year, we’ve been supported and joined by other squads, in particular the NSW Police Rescue and Bomb Disposal Squad and PolAir and our volunteer brothers and sisters in WICEN, the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Service.

Next weekend is a big one. This year has seen the great guys over at Police Rescue really throw themselves into seeing this SAREX as an opportunity for all squads to work together, train together and learn from each other, under the authority of the State Rescue Board. The logistical exercise of this type of activity can’t be underestimated and the teams from Police logistics have been heavily involved in bringing this together.

Personally, this is my 3rd SAREX for this missing plane over the years and the weight of the families, the sense of expectation and the management of risk for us sits heavily upon all our shoulders. We’re certainly not going in with gung-ho hero attitudes. We take this serious terrain, very seriously indeed.

I’ll be heading up one of the small teams in the primary search box and we’re preparing ourselves for a gruelling few days, looking out for any clues and for each other.

Maybe this year, next weekend, we will know the answer.


15 thoughts on “Missing Cessna VH-MDX : Where in Barrington Tops is it?

  1. Good luck . I’ve been involved in a couple of searches and agree they are daunting.Some of our BBW( Brisbane Bushwalking Club ) Club members do the same as you re S&R and I think we should more as we bush walkers have some very useful skills to offer.
    We have a few air disaster crash sites up in SE Qld and they are sites we regularly ( respectfully) visit . The Stinson site in Lamination . the Lincoln Bomber on the Main Range , The Piper Cherokee in Brisbane Forest Park and Shirley Strachan’s helicopter crash site .
    thanks for your blog and videos. I tell many of our newer members about your site(s) and videos and they find them very useful. Regards Steve C

    • Hi Steve, Thanks for your message. Yes, many of us Bushwalkers have the good fitness and navigation required to help out in a whole range of different search and rescue incidents. To get involved in NSW you must be part of a recognised squad, like BWRS. Is there a volunteer S&R squad in QLD? C

  2. Hey, slightly off topic but seeings you sound familiar with Barrington Tops, is the Tops to Myall walk a marked track or is it an off-track walk? I can’t seem to find confirmation anywhere. I found the walk on a NPWS website so surely it’s not off-track … but who knows and who would maintain it. Have been looking for someone to ask for ages because I’d like to do it one day if it’s an on-track walk (I don’t really like to do off-track walks alone)

    • I did this walk during Easter about 4 years ago. It’s all on fire trails (mostly old logging and forestry roads) some of which became interesting in the wet… Which being Barrington Tops is quite a bit of the time. Some became very steep clay “ski slopes” that proved most entertaining. Also, because of the high rain fall, the river crossings, of which there are quite a few, were also somewhat interesting! Leeches were plentiful and I don’t rate the campsites very highly.

      I used the guide book, “The Tops to Myall’s Heritage Trail” by Pacy, Black, Charboneau, Radcliffe, Pritchard. It was a combined effort by Great Lakes Tourist Board, NPA, NPWS, Gloucester Shire Council and Forestry Commission. I think the Lions Club of Tea Gardens were the project managers, so maybe track them down.

      I have a feeling the book is out of print and with the age of it and changes in roads and trails, there are a few errors. Let me know if you have trouble getting a copy and I will see what I can do.

      Although there were interesting things of note along the way (old huts, wildlife and the giants of the Barrington Tops) essentially, it’s a really long road bash. If you are happy to walk on fire trails, then you’ll find it fine.

      Oh and it is one of those walks that gives you a real sense of traveling a long distance. Essentially, a west to east crossing of the whole park.

      • I don’t mind fire trails as long as it’s interesting and somewhere new. I like the whole mountains to coast thing 🙂 . I’ve heard of the guide book you mention but it’s no longer available. But if the Wild Walks people publish a guide I’ll buy it.

      • The guidebook people that Ken mentions are different to the WildWalks folk.

        I’ve been working closely with Matt from WildWalks (who did the book you used for the Great North Walk) on his next one which is for the Six Foot Track.

        In fact, we’re getting super close to a launch date which will include not only a book, but a website with videos, maps, tips and all the good stuff… Including an exciting new “secret” feature!

        Stay tuned!

      • Just an update… I was working with some of the National Parks staff from Gloucester during the search last weekend and I mentioned this track.

        Since I did the track, boundaries have changed and it now appears that some of the journey crosses private property with not-so-accepting private landholders.

        I recommend looking in to this closer before undertaking the Tops to Myall walk. Shame 😦

  3. Hi lotsafreshair,

    My name is Philip Pembroke, son of Philip Pembroke who was on board the fateful flight. I attended the base camp and command post with my brother and mother last weekend and was truly moved and amazed by the efforts put in.

    The mystery of MDX continues but it gave me a great sense of pride and fulfillment to be involved and see the work you guys were doing.

    I never met my father. Mum was pregnant at the time so I’m always intrigued by these searches.

    Thanks to all involved and please keep me posted with future searches.

    Many thanks,

    • Philip, thank you so much for stopping by.

      I cannot tell you how encouraging it was for us, out in the field, to hear that you and your Mum were at the search base.

      I wish we could have met you both. The stories I heard afterwards were incredibly touching.

      We will be back next year, as we’ve been for many years. We will not rest.

      Please keep in touch.

      Kindest regards

      • Greetings from America, Caro!

        I had the chance to visit Australia once to compete in several events in 2003…really enjoyed my time in your country (Victoria and Queensland) – wish I could return.

        Anyway, just wondering – during the search do you stay overnight on-site, wherever you finish up? What do you eat? Do you have to carry in all of your food w/ you? And hump-out all of your waste? How many people per team? Do you sleep in individual or multi-person tents? Are there lots of creepy-crawly things? Kangaroos? Koalas? (haha just kidding there)


      • Hi Joe, Glad you like Aus. We like it too!
        Yes, whilst we’re out in the field, we stay where we are overnight to save time in getting back out and commencing to search again the next day. Yes, we carry all our food with us (we all practice lightweight hiking principles) and take all our rubbish with us. However, as we’re not in sensitive environmental areas, we practice good bushcraft and bury our human waste.
        Generally speaking, we had 5 people per team.
        In my team, we all shared the minimal flat ground where we were and slept under 2 fly shelters end-to-end strung up above us. It rained in the night and we remained fairly dry even with open sides all around…
        … didn’t have many insects/bugs to speak of – just the usual leeches that are a highlight of this NP.
        Didn’t see any other wildlife… just a few wombat holes and lots of wallaby scats… so they were about.

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