How great outback plane heist went wrong
It was the Great Plane Robbery that wasn't.
Wind the clock back to January 20 in the year 2000.
It was known as the "Bank Run". A light plane courier delivery service to outback New South Wales.
It was the day Brewarrina mother of five Wendy Norton was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"It was a double barrel ... and it was very, very close," Wendy Norton told me.
She's talking about the shotgun that was shoved in her face.
"I thought we were gone if we didn't participate," she said.
The pilot – who, 18 years later, wants to remain anonymous – found himself also staring down the barrel of a shotgun, fearing for his life.
"When he pointed the gun at me I was ... I was really in fear for my life," he told investigators.
The pilot, who was 21 years old at the time, had done the bank run before.
Leaving Sydney's Bankstown Airport, the PA-31 Navajo Chieftain made its way across north-western NSW to Mudgee, Coonabarabran, Coonamble, Walgett and Brewarrina.
"Monday to Friday I fly the bank run and that day the aircraft was pretty full," the pilot told police.
Wendy Norton wasn't the regular Brewarrina courier. That was her sister's job, but she was planning to go on leave and took Wendy along to learn the ropes.
Until the plane arrived at the town's tiny airport, nothing seemed out of the norm.
But touching down on the runway, which is surrounded by the deep red earth of the north-west, everything seemed out of the norm.
As he taxied towards the small terminal the pilot spotted a white Holden Commodore speed onto the tarmac and come to a halt in front of the plane.
With the plane's engines still running the Commodore driver, wearing a balaclava and blue overalls, leapt out.
Brandishing a pump action shotgun, he ordered the plane to be shut down and the pilot to get out.
At the same time another gunman surprised Wendy and her sister as they were beginning to remove parcels from the back of the plane.
"I looked over my right shoulder and there's a guy standing there with a gun," Wendy told me.
At first she thought it was a prank.
"I just turned and looked at my sister and she was just as white as a sheet," she said.
All three victims were convinced they would be shot if they didn't co-operate.
I asked Wendy what went through her mind.
"My kids, was I ever going to see them again? My partner, family ... just, yeah, could be gone," she said.
The trio were handcuffed to a chain link fence, before the gunmen returned to the plane.
One started rifling through the parcels, while the other appeared to be trying to start the engines.
Detective Senior Kris Ford, who heads Strike Force Leaburn, said the crooks went to "a great extent".
"From the stealing of the car to the belief, that we have, that they were actually going to steal the plane," Det Sen Const Ford said.
"The victims were just going about their normal business and that would have been frightening for them, terrifying."
The bandits had even set up a makeshift runway on a stretch of road 40km outside Brewarrina. They'd removed sign posts and painted rocks so they could land the plane.
But in his haste to shut the engines down, the pilot hadn't completed the procedure, meaning the bandit was unable restart it.
Wendy Norton is adamant the gunmen knew exactly what they were doing.
"They knew exactly what everything was and they just had everything just down pat," she said.
"There was no fault ... they knew where to park ... they knew where the parcels were and out."
She also remembers something else – their clothing.
"Everything was brand new, everything – white sneakers, everything was just brand new," she said.
Unable to start the plane, the crooks grabbed what they could and sped off in the Commodore.
The car was later found burnt out on the side of the road. The gunmen had vanished into thin air.
But it has emerged that this was the great plane robbery that was anything but.
You see, while the plane would sometimes carry large sums of money, on this day, on this run, it only had about a thousand dollars on board.
Detective Superintendent Danny Doherty is the Robbery Squad boss.
"They could have easily got a major prize out of this and they didn't get it," he said.
"They could have got a plane and a large amount of money."
As Det Sen Const Ford puts it: "The wrong day, the wrong plane".
And despite the passage of time Strike Force detectives are confident of cracking the case.
"This is a brazen and violent armed robbery. So, very much like unsolved homicides, unsolved armed robberies are still something we are committed to," Det Supt Doherty says.
"I am always confident that with the assistance of the public we might be able to solve this matter."