13 August 1940
TEN VICTIMS OF
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
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
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 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
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.
Sir Henry Gullett
Sir Brudenell White
The Air Accidents
is at work on prelim-
inaries for the inquiry,
which will be hald at