Unlikely travelling companions caught up in wet weather chaos
By DAVID MOASE
UNTIL yesterday, Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd and notorious standover man Mark 'Chopper' Read probably had nothing in common.
Mr Lloyd is a businessman turned politician who plays things with a straight bat, while Chopper has had his ears cut off, been stabbed and shot, spent more than 15 years in jail and admits to killing 19 people.
These two unlikely travelling companions were among the many people caught up in airline chaos yesterday caused by low cloud tightly covering Coffs Harbour Regional Airport like a wet, grey doona.
They were aboard the Qantaslink flight from Sydney due to arrive at 10.40am which was eventually diverted to Tamworth after the pilot decided it was too dangerous to attempt a landing through the clouds.
A later Qantaslink flight was diverted to Port Macquarie while earlier in the day a Virgin Blue skipper decided a landing was too dangerous and returned to Sydney.
Airport manager Bevan Edwards said the diversions were caused by the low cloud 'ceiling'.
The decision to land or not in difficult weather was up to the pilot.
"The decision is purely based on safety and there are strict guidelines," he said.
"If the conditions are not meeting the guidelines they don't take any chances."
Mr Lloyd was due in Coffs Harbour to talk to the media about the Federal Government's offer to provide $30 million for work on the Bonville Pacific Highway deviation.
The press conference was cancelled and the flight eventually arrived in Grafton with passengers bused to Coffs Harbour.
Chopper was coming to Coffs for his two-man show with former AFL footballer Mark Jackson due to be staged at the Hoey Moey last night.
The flight diverted to Port Macquarie returned to Sydney while yesterday afternoon's Virgin Blue flight was forced to go to Ballina to refuel after circling Coffs Harbour for an extended period.
But if Mr Lloyd and Chopper thought they were having a bad day, they were not finding things as tough as Jody Haines.
Jody arrived at Coffs Harbour on Thursday morning on her way home to Brisbane from Sydney.
She had been away from home for 16 days, visiting family and friends in Wagga Wagga, Melbourne and Sydney, and was expecting to catch a Sunshine Express flight.
"First I heard the flight was delayed and then we waited for about two and a half hours before it was cancelled," she said.
"I was then told I might be able to get a flight out at 8.30 this morning but when I arrived at the airport that flight had been delayed and then it just didn't happen.
"Now I'm just trying to find a way to get the hell out of here."
Jody admitted to being out of money after her two-week holiday and spent Thursday night on the floor of a hotel room occupied by people she met at the airport who took pity on her.
Due to return to her work as a function co-ordinator at 6am today, Jody also tried to find seats on buses and trains heading north, but all were full.