Trista Applebee was on the joy flight for an early birthday present.
Trista Applebee was on the joy flight for an early birthday present.

Boyfriend’s desperate wait for missing plane

A BIRTHDAY joy-flight over the Gold Coast in a historic Russian warplane has turned tragic, claiming the life of a young mum and the pilot.

Trista Applebee, 31, who was meant to celebrate her birthday yesterday and was being treated to the scenic flight as an early present, is believed to have died when the Yak-52 flown by Marcel van Hattem crashed into the ocean off South Stradbroke Island.

The body of Mr van Hattem, 52, was recovered by police divers yesterday from wreckage off the northern tip of the island.

Ms Applebee's boyfriend raised the alarm after waiting for her in vain at the Southport Flying Club on Wednesday when the plane failed to return from what was meant to be a 30-minute scenic flight.

It is a tragedy chillingly similar to one in August 2008, when a Yak-52 plunged into the sea off South Stradbroke, killing Ian Lovell - who was also on a birthday joy-flight - and pilot Barry Hempel.

As authorities continued the grim search for Ms Applebee yesterday, tributes began to flow on social media.

"We love you Trista … hope you are found safe and well," one friend posted.

Friends also paid tribute to Mr van Hattem, a Dutch national turned Gold Coast businessman and keen pilot, who was also the father of two boys living in the Netherlands.

Coast woman Debbie Toussaint, who took a joy-flight over the Coast with Mr van Hattem in the Yak-52 only weeks ago, said she was heartbroken at the death of her friend.

"RIP Marcel van Hattem … may you fly like an acrobat in the heavens," she posted on Facebook. "People come into our world for a reason, a season or a lifetime - we were friends for a season, Marcel van Hattem, but this experience with you will stay with me for a lifetime. I'm so blessed to have met you."

Mr van Hattem's pet german shepherd was yesterday waiting forlornly at the front gate of his Ormeau home for its master to return.


The body Marcel van Hattem was recovered yesterday during the police search.
The body Marcel van Hattem was recovered yesterday during the police search.


The pilot's neighbours, Greg and Janet Schier, described him as an adventurer who had even cheekily buzzed their street in his plane.

"That's the sort of guy he was," Mr Schier said. "He was a great neighbour and a very adventurous sort of guy. He was a thinker and he loved life."

Mrs Schier said, "He died doing what he loved - he absolutely loved flying."

Southport Flying Club aerodrome manager Steve Rance said Mr van Hattem was a well-respected club member and had made a radio call to the Coombabah airfield shortly before taking off at 10am on Wednesday.

"He just said he was going to go to Jumpinpin for some aerobatic work," he said.

Mr Rance said Ms Applebee's partner raised the alarm just after 1pm.

"One of our members said 'Are you right mate?'. He said he was waiting for his girlfriend, who had been on a flight that took off at 10am and was only supposed to go for half-an-hour. That's when one of our members raised the alarm and we contacted Airservices (Australia.)."

Senior-Sergeant Jay Notaro, of Gold Coast Water Police, said the delay in reporting the plane missing would form part of the investigation. Sen-Sgt Notaro said Ms Applebee was the mother of an 11-year-old girl.

"It's actually her birthday (Ms Applebee's) today. It was actually a birthday flight," he said yesterday. "The pilot was known to her and was providing that flight for her as part of her birthday celebrations."

Former Warbirds Australia president Kim Rolph-Smith, who runs Brisbane joy flight company Warbird Aviation, said the Yak-52 was an "extremely well-built and reliable" aircraft.

He said it was alarming that the aircraft was not reported missing earlier.

"The length of time it took is quite ridiculous," he said.