Police investigate whether disappeared cult family perished in plane crash

The mysterious disappearance of an Australian family linked to an internet cult has taken a dramatic twist, with police investigating whether they were on a plane which crashed in Brazil four years ago.

The West Australian says

Chantelle McDougall, 30, her cult leader boyfriend Gary Felton, 48, their daughter Leela McDougall, 10, and friend Tony Popic, 44, were last seen on July 13, 2007 in Busselton where they sold a car for $4000 to a local dealer and drove away in a waiting vehicle.

The group, none of whom have touched their bank accounts since, told family and friends they were headed for Brazil.

Four days later, Tam Airlines domestic flight 3054 from Porto Alegre to Sao Paulo crashed at Sao Paulo Airport, killing 181 passengers, six flight crew and 12 people on the ground. […]

The resulting heat was so intense that more than 70 of the bodies were so badly burnt they were either never recovered or could not be identified.

The West Australian understands the WA Police missing persons squad has been liaising with Brazilian authorities in an effort to determine whether the missing group were among the victims.

While the flight’s passenger manifest is publicly available, and does not contain the names of any of the group, the issue has been complicated by Mr Felton’s history of forging identity documents.

While living in Australia, where he operated a secretive doomsday internet forum, the Englishman went by the name Simon Kadwell – an identity he stole from a former British associate more than 15 years ago.

It is understood WA detectives have been investigating whether the group could have travelled under false identities, but are yet to find any evidence that they did. Police have previously said they had not left Australia under their real names.

WA Police refused to comment on the case yesterday.

Note: in media reports the name of the ‘cult guru/conman’ has variously been reported as ‘Simon Kadwill’ and ‘Simon Kadwell.’

Missing: Leela McDougall (Australian Federal Police)
Missing: Chantelle McDougall (Australian Federal Police)
Doomsday sect is linked to missing Australians
Missing Briton may be conman
Dad fears cult brainwashed his daughter

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 20, 2011.
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