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Aussie pilots get threats after online disinformation

Conspiracy theorists spread false claims after weeks of torrential rains led to deadly east coast floods over the past two months. -- AFP
Conspiracy theorists spread false claims after weeks of torrential rains led to deadly east coast floods over the past two months. -- AFP

SYDNEY: An Australian aviation company says it has received more than 100 threats following an online conspiracy theory that its pilots unleashed a flooding disaster by cloud seeding.


Conspiracy theorists spread the false claims after weeks of torrential rains led to deadly east coast floods over the past two months, engulfing homes and sweeping cars from the roads.


Posts shared online alleged aerial survey pilots from Handel Aviation caused a second deluge in the flood-ravaged New South Wales town of Lismore on March 31 by cloud seeding -- dispersing a substance into the clouds to prompt rain.


"A pilot from Handel Aviation in Cessna 210N Centurion VH-JIL did a breakfast time cloud seeding run over Lismore South & Ballina today while sightseeing the massive flood below him," one widely shared post reads.


The flight path of the Handel Aviation aircraft VH-JIL criss-crossing over flooded areas was also shared online by Australian fashion designer Alice McCall alongside claims it was dropping chemicals to "activate rain".


Handel Aviation operator Mark Handel said that the company does not seed clouds.


The flight was collecting images for aerial maps provided to Australian mapping company, NearMap, he said.


"Handel Aviation operates aerial photography aircraft only. Our recent flights over flooded areas of NSW and QLD are in response to the floods," a statement on the Handel Aviation website reads.


NearMap confirmed the photos taken by Handel Aviation were commissioned to map disaster-affected areas for insurers and emergency services.


"These aerial captures are commissioned after major weather catastrophes and natural disasters, including following the recent east coast flooding," the NearMap spokesman said.


The claims circulating online led to more than 100 threats being sent to Handel Aviation, despite it explaining the purpose of the flights on the contact page of the company's website.


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