F-111s in fake reef plan

Queensland tourism authorities have backed away from a proposal to sink an F-111 fighter jet off the Gold Coast to create a new underwater attraction for scuba divers.

The idea was floated by Gold Coast Tourism’s Stephanie Fuller yesterday while announcing plans for the possible construction of an artificial reef to lure more visitors.

It has won eager support from scuba dive operators, who say it could be come the first of its kind.

The State Government has commissioned a $71,800 study into the feasibility of a man-made reef, among a range of new attractions on the Gold Coast.

The F-111s, due to be decommissioned later this year, as well as other naval vessels no longer in service were touted for the fake reef yesterday, however Gold Coast Tourism spokesman John Kaarsberg said it was too early to speculate on what the artificial reef may feature.

“We were putting the horse before the cart in making any suggestion of possible dive structures,” he said.

“It may not be financially feasible [to sink an F-111]

“We received this grant to research whether a man-made reef would be feasible and practical.”

Gold Coast dive operator Ian Banks said a sunken F-111 would be a major drawcard for domestic and international tourists but would only work as part of an artificial reef.

“It would be great, it would have tremendous pull power, but it would simply be too small on its own,” Mr Banks said.

He said an ideal man-made dive site to cater for beginner and advanced divers should include a sunken warship.

But Queensland Scuba Diving Company owner Mark Salter, who first proposed sinking a military aircraft off the coast to the Gold Coast City Council in January last year, said sunken military aircraft had proven to be hugely popular in waters off Phuket, in south-east Thailand.

He was not aware of existing dive sites in Australian waters which housed sunken aircraft.

The F-111 jets, known for their annual “dump and burn” lightshows over Brisbane during Riverfire celebrations, are due to be decommissioned in December this year.

Mr Salter has previously pushed for the Bligh Goverment to secure the soon-to-be decommissioned HMAS Tobruk as a Gold Coast dive attraction.

Mr Salter said the Gold Coast Seaway was an ideal location for an artificial reef, as it would provide sheltered waters for novice divers that was easily accessible to dive boats.

“It would be quite easy to sink an F-111, all it would take is a bit of concrete. We could drop them out there tomorrow,” Mr Salter said.

“Once we have an F-111, we could build on the site.”

The HMAS Tobruk is expected to be decommissioned in 2012 and Mr Salter said the State Government needed to invest “serious money” to tender for the heavy landing ship.

Tourism Minister Peter Lawlor has high hopes for an artificial reef to draw tourists to Queensland.

“Developing a new dive site in southern Queensland will only add to the range of diving experiences available and encourage visitors to the Gold Coast to stay longer,” Mr Lawlor told reporters yesterday.

“This study will focus on the type of reef that could be developed, potential dive sites, operational requirements and the potential economic value of a dive attraction.”

Source: www.smh.com.au