The early 1990s saw Southern Air buy the Post Office/depot to serve as a terminal for the waiting passengers. Southern Air bought its own vans to collect and drop passengers at Ryans Creek. Southern Air also bought the South Seas Hotel.
The 1992 Southern Air team... Barry Rhodes, Annie Stinger, Philip Kean, Anne Rowley, Keith Smith, Kerry Smith, Michelle, Tony Stewart, Robin Andrews and Murray Donald
Southern Air restarted flights between Invercargill and Dunedin in 1997. Above, BN Islander ZK-FXE advertises the new service at Invercargill on 4 January 1997. Photo : B Kerr Collection. Below, newly painted but without titles ZK-FXE on the service at Dunedin on 15 September 1997. Photo : S Lowe
Cessna 402 ZK-VAC was registered to Southern Air on 2 April 1998 for the scheduled flights between Invercargill and Dunedin that had restarted in 1997. It was also to be used for air ambulance work, the company having gained air ambulance accreditation from the Aviation Industry Association and also. The aircraft was also modified with a Robertson short-takeoff and landing STOL kit so it could also operate into Ryans Creek. The Dunedin service once again did not prosper and was discontinued in July 1998. It was decided to keep the Cessna 402 and use it to supplement the Islander to Stewart Island when needed. Sadly, this aircraft was to be at the centre of Southern Air’s blackest day.
On the 19th of August 1998 ZK-VAC had a double engine failure on a flight from Stewart Island to Invercargill. A mayday call was made just before five o'clock that evening. The pilot, Robin Andrews, successfully managed to ditch the plane in Foveaux Strait 2.5 nm west of Bluff and he and the nine passengers successfully escaped the aircraft. The aircraft stayed afloat for some minutes after the landing. The pilot, realising that he and three passengers did not have life jackets entered the aircraft to find some to no avail. Due to some confusion as to the exact crash site, it took over an hour for rescuers to reach the spot and in that time five people, including the pilot, died from hypothermia in the wintery cold waters of Foveaux Strait. The aircraft was recovered and while the accident report suggested the cause may have been fuel exhaustion no conclusive cause was ever established.
The final and briefest instalment of this series will be on Stewart Island Flights. don't know a lot about this company. If you are able to help with details please email me at the address above.