CRASH OF A LOCKHEED HUDSON
8 MILES FROM CANBERRA ON 13 AUGUST 1940

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visits since 23 June 2000

 

On 13 August 1940, RAAF Lockheed Hudson A16-97, crashed in hilly country about 8 miles from Canberra killing the crew of four and 6 other well known government and military leaders.

 

The Herald
13 August 1940

MINISTERS DIE
IN CRASH
--------------
TEN VICTIMS OF
R.A.A.F. DISASTER
----------------------

Army Chief Included
-------------------
From Our Special Representative

CANBERRA, Tuesday. - Ten people, including three Federal Cabinet Ministers and the Chief of the General Staff were killed when an Royal Australian Air Force bomber crashed in hilly country about eight miles from Canberra, and a mile from the Canberra Air Force aerodrome, about 10.15a.m. today.

Those Killed Were:
  Mr. G.A. STREET, Minister for the Army and Minister for Repatriation.
  MR. J.V. FAIRBAIRN, Minister for Air and Civil Aviation.
  SIR HENRY GULLETT, Vice-President of the Executive Council
  GENERAL SIR BRUDENELL WHITE, Chief of the General Staff.
  LIEUT.-COL. FRANCIS THORNTHWAITE, Staff Officer to Gen. White.
  MR. R. ELFORD, Private Secretary to the Minister for Air.

Air Force Crew of Four:
FLIGHT-LIEUT. RICHARD EDWARD HITCHCOCK, 28, married, pilot
PILOT OFFICER RICHARD FREDERICK WIESENER, 29, married, co-pilot.
CORPORAL JOHN FREDERICK PALMER, 29, married, wireless operator
AIRCRAFTMAN CHARLES JOSEPH CROSDALE, 30, married, flight mechanic.

The men were attached to a squadron at Laverton R.A.A.F. station.

Sheet of Flame Follows Explosion

THE plane was seen by watchers at the Canberra Aerodrome and Air Force station to circle the drome, and then rise and head south. It disappeared behind a low tree-dotted hill. There was an explosion and a sheet of flame, followed by a dense cloud of smoke

An emergency squad from the Canberra R.A.A.F. training squadron left immediately. To reach the plane the squad had to drive along the Queanbeyan Road for about three miles and then across rough country for about a mile.

When they arrived the plane was blazing fiercely, and it was impossible to approach within 50 yards of it. The men were forced to stand by without being able to rescue the occupants from incineration.

The Canberra Fire Brigade and Ambulances from Queanbeyan and Canberra, as well as several Air Force tenders, arrived soon afterwards and fire extinguishers were played on the blazing wreckage.

After about half-an-hour, when the blaze had died down, it was seen that the entire undercarriage, wings and structural supports of the plane had been torn away and were a smouldering mass in which were the charred bodies of those on board.

All that was left of what had been a modern bomber was the rudder and tail pointing in the air at an angle of 45 degrees.

A charred tree was in the middle of the wreckage, and it is thought that the pilot, in attempting to make a forced landing, crashed into it after missing a higher tree about 20 yards from the wreckage.

As soon as possible ambulance officers and the emergency squad  dragged from the wreckage the bodies of those on board. They were taken back into the Canberra Morgue by the Canberra ambulance and Air Force tender.

An armed Air Force guard was placed on the main road and near the scene of the crash to keep back many sightseers who rushed from Canberra and Queanbeyan by car as soon as the disaster became known.

The office staff of the Minister for the Army watching from a window in the the Minister's office at Parliament house had seen the plane arrive, and had remarked "The Brigadier will soon be here."

They saw the plane circle and disappear from sight. Soon afterwards word came from the aerodrome that the plane had crashed.

The Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (Mr. Tritton), Private Secretary to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Hayter) and the Assistant Private Secretary to Mr. Fairbairn immediately drove to the scene of the crash to identify the bodies.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Thorby), and the Treasurer (Mr. Spender) rushed out to the crash.

The Minister for Customs (Senator McLeay) was to have travelled by the fatal plane. Mr. Street had telephone him yesterday asking whether he would like to fly to Canberra with him this morning. Senator McLeay refused the invitation because he had an important conference on the train with the Controller-General of Customs.

It was only by chance that the Assistant Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) was not on the Plane. He was in Melbourne yesterday and was invited by Mr. Fairbairn to join the party, but decided to take the train instead. Mr. Fadden was one of the first to hear the news at Parliament House.

The accident, which was seen by 50 or 60 people, including a number of Air Force officers and men on Canberra aerodrome, was vividly described by eye-witnesses.

Flying conditions were almost ideal when the machine arrived from Melbourne on schedule, and after a preliminary circuit of the Canberra aerodrome evidently to ensure that all was clear for landing, headed out to the west to make the final glide into the aerodrome.

The sky was flecked by a few high white clouds and there was a moderate easterly breeze blowing.

 

War Leaders
    In Today's
      Disaster

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     Mr. Street

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    Mr. Fairbairn

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Sir Henry Gullett

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Sir Brudenell White

INVESTIGATION
AT CANBERRA

The Air Accidents
Investigation Committee
is at work on prelim-
inaries for the inquiry,
which will be hald at
Canberra.

 

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This page first produced 23 June 2000

This page last updated 23 June 2000