AVRO LINCOLN BOMBER A73-64
CRASHED INTO MOUNT SUPERBUS
IN SOUTHERN QUEENSLAND ON 9 APRIL 1955

 

Long-nosed Avro Lincoln of 10 Squadron RAAF

 

Avro Lincoln bomber, A73-64 of 10 Squadron RAAF based in Townsville crashed into Mount Superbus near Emu Vale in the early hours of Easter Saturday morning on 9 April 1955 during a medical evacuation of a sick baby from Townsville to Eagle Farm airfield in Brisbane. The crew of four RAAF personnel and the two passengers were all killed in this tragic accident.

 

Avro Lincoln bombers of 10 Squadron RAAF at Garbutt airfield in Townsville in 1961

 

10 Squadron RAAF had received a telephone call late on Good Friday night from the Townsville hospital seeking an emergency evacuation to Brisbane of a critically jaundiced 2 day old baby, Robyn Huxley. 

As most of the Squadron's air crew were on leave or stand-down over Easter, the Commanding Officer of 10 Squadron, Wing Commander John Costello decided to pilot the Squadron's only serviceable aircraft, A73-64, for the evacuation flight.

The crew consisted of the new Commanding Officer Wing Commander Costello who had flown Sunderlands during the war against the German U Boats in the Atlantic, the Senior Navigation Officer, Squadron Leader Finlay, who was a wartime Pathfinder navigator, the squadron Chief Signaller, Flight Lieutenant Cater, and the squadron Senior Engineering Officer, Squadron Leader Mason. 

The baby girl and nurse Mafalda Gray were positioned in the long-nosed section of the Lincoln bomber. The aircraft took off from Garbutt airfield at 00.30 am on Saturday 9 April 1955. The aircraft encountered some cloud and rain as it approached southern Queensland. The aircraft had to fly at a relatively low altitude to ensure the baby had a comfortable flight.

At 4.05 am the aircraft contacted Brisbane Air Traffic Control to advise that they were flying in cloud at 6,000 feet. They advised that they would arrive in Brisbane in about 10 minutes time and sought a clearance to reduce altitude to 5,000 feet. Brisbane Air Traffic Control advised that they were cleared to drop to 5,000 feet and if they wished they could drop to 4,000 feet for the approach to Eagle Farm airfield.

A short time later Brisbane Air Traffic Control contacted them with weather information and asked them to confirm when they had obtained a visual fix on the town of Caboolture. No further reports were heard from the Lincoln bomber. There were no low clouds in the Brisbane area at that time.

Some time later, reports came in that an aircraft, later confirmed as a  Lincoln, was heard to circle over the town of Bell at about 3.30 am. Bell is located about 18 miles north east of Dalby. Clearly A73-64 was well off course. The weather south of Bell was overcast with scattered rain.

At 4.14 am some members of the Brisbane Bushwalking Club heard a large aircraft fly overhead followed by the noise of an impact and some large explosions. By their estimation it had slammed into a nearby mountain in the Main Range region of the Border Ranges near Emu Vale. This was later confirmed to be Mount Superbus, the highest mountain (1,375 metres) in southern Queensland.

A small group from the Bushwalking club was despatched immediately to Emu Vale to notify the relevant authorities. Five hours later a Canberra bomber from Amberley airbase was able to confirm the location of the still burning wreckage of Lincoln, A73-64 just below the summit of Mount Superbus.

Ground rescue crews were dispatched to the site. They quickly confirmed that there were no survivors.

 

Wreckage of A73-64 near the summit of Mount Superbus

 

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Sketch of the layout of the wreckage

 

Part of the wreckage found after the crash

 

General view of wreckage looking towards the rear of the aircraft

 

Port side of fuselage

 

Throttle controls

Those killed in this tragic accident were:-

Wing Commander John Peter Costello MID (pilot)
Squadron Leader Charles Surtees Mason MBE (co-pilot)
Squadron Leader John Watson Finlay (navigator)
Flight Lieutenant William George Stanley Cater (signaller)
Baby Robyn Huxley 
Sister Mafalda Gray

 

Sisters Mafalda Gray, aged 26 years of Melton Hill, Townsville had resigned on the Friday to take up a nursing position in New South Wales. She volunteered to travel on the emergency flight when she heard the plight of the sick baby.

 

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Sqn/Ldr Charles Surtees Mason MBE

 

The four RAAF service personnel killed in this tragic crash were buried in the Services' section of the Lutwyche Cemetery in Brisbane with full Service honours. 60 RAAF officers and more than 200 other ranks attended the moving service. 26 of the dead airmen's friends formed part of a 50-man guard of honour outside of Holy Trinity Church of England and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Fortitude Valley. 

 

RAAF Truck carrying the four caskets

 

The four caskets each mounted with sword, airmen's cap and medals

 

After the separate services at the two churches the corteges linked up outside the Holy Trinity Church. Four caskets draped in the Union Jack were placed on the rear of an RAAF truck. A glittering sword, Airman's Cap and their medals were placed on top of each casket. The funeral cortege moved away to the "Dead March" played by the Amberley RAAF Band. More than 500 people attended the service at the cemetery where the graves were side by side. A squad of RAAF personnel fired three volleys into the air.

The accident investigation team were able to determine that the aircraft had been on a heading of 135șT at the time of impact and that immediately before the impact it had tried to gain altitude (presumably to avoid the top of the mountain). The nose and cockpit of the aircraft were totally destroyed but accident investigators were able to determine that the 4 throttles were on maximum power, the propeller pitch controls were set in the cruise position and the fuel cocks were all open. It appeared that the rudder trim control and the trim tabs on the elevators were all in the neutral position.

One suggested, but not confirmed theory for the crash, was the fact that an oxygen bottle and trolley taken on the flight for the baby, may have affected the accuracy of the P-type compass on board the Lincoln bomber. The Lincoln bomber had two compasses installed. One was the G3 master compass in the navigator's compartment and the other was the P-type compass which was located to the left of the pilot's seat. It was considered that the unserviceability of the G3 compass may have contributed to the navigational error.

It is also possible that the crew did not check the Drift Meter located in the bomb aimer's compartment due to the baby and nurse being located in the nose of the aircraft. 

Another factor may have been that Brisbane radio station 4BC lost signal strength at around that time on Saturday morning. Sydney radio station 2UW was only 10KHz away from 4BC, so it was considered possible that the navigator may have accidentally locked on to 2UW thinking it was 4BC. This was another scenario that may explain the incorrect path taken by the Lincoln bomber.

They may have also mistaken the town of Bell for another town north of Brisbane.


 

Daniel Leahy advised me that a rudder and prop blade from Lincoln bomber A73-64 are now located at the Caboolture Warplane Museum. A rock from the site is now located below English Electric Canberra bomber A84-201 outside RAAF Amberley.

 


 

A VISIT TO THE CRASH SITE ON SATURDAY 1 JUNE 2002

I visited the crash site which is about 80 meters below the top of Mount Superbus on Saturday 1 June 2002, with a party of eleven people led by Andrew Owen. We parked our 4WD vehicles at Cryptocarya camping area before our long, arduous and very steep journey to the crash site. It was a 10.6kms round journey from the Cryptocarya camping area.

After a long walk we spotted the first engine from the Lincoln bomber off the right hand side of the track in a gully. At this point we did a left hand turn and started to head up the steep section of the mountain along a creek bed. About half way up the steep creek bed we came across the second remaining engine from the Lincoln bomber wedged against a large rock. The other two engines have been removed from the mountain.

The climb to the main wreckage area becomes steeper after leaving the second engine. Very steep in fact. There are still significant sections of the Lincoln bomber at the crash site. There is a small memorial plaque cemented into a rock just below the track adjacent to the large section of the fuselage. 

Unfortunately some idiots have placed graffiti or carved their names into the coloured RAAF roundel on the side of the fuselage. Some even bigger idiots have cut small sections of the coloured aluminium from the area of the large RAAF Roundel on the side of the fuselage using tin snips.

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 At the bottom of the mountain - L to R:- Ian Ferguson, Sally Bennet, Alan Bates (with hat behind A. Owen),  Andrew Owen (front with hat), Michael Bennet (rear), Michael Matthews, Geoff Billing, Max Blackburn, Stewart Owen, and Michael Tomlinson

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Second engine half way up the mountain lodged against a rock

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Second engine half way up the mountain lodged against a rock. L to R:- Stewart Owen, Ian Ferguson, Alan Bates and Andrew Owen

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The second engine half way up the mountain

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The steel plate at the crash site is from the front skirt of the B17 mid upper gun turret. The only other place that armour plate was used was in the back of the pilot's seat. The following is stamped on the underside of the curve. It is very difficult to read due to the deterioration of the plate:-

 2   51026
4
A   ? ????  A
X 413P
7-X23P

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Stewart Owen beside a steel cover plate discovered half way up the mountain partly buried off to the right hand side of the steep creek bed.

The holes in the bottom corners of the steel plate  are for the hinges of the leg shields. The leg shields pivoted on the hinges and were secured into the locked position by a spring loaded toggle.

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Some of the first sections of the crashed Lincoln that we encountered

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Stewart Owen beside some of the first sections of the crashed Lincoln that we encountered

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Some of the first sections of the crashed Lincoln that we encountered

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Stewart Owen beside some of the first sections of the crashed Lincoln that we encountered

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Stewart Owen beside a wheel strut. Note the steepness of the hill

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Andrew Owen beside some of the first sections of the crashed Lincoln that we encountered

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Stewart Owen with possibly part of an engine frame

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Stewart Owen is dwarfed by part of the Lincoln remains

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A section of the crashed Lincoln

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Andrew Owen with possibly part of an engine frame

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A section of the crashed Lincoln

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Possibly the bottom part of a gun turret

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Part of the wreckage

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Peter Dunn and Stewart Owen

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Inside of the fuselage. Note the green colour of the inside of the fuselage.

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Looking back down the mountain through a part of the fuselage

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Andrew Owen inspecting part of the wreckage

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Resting at the small camp at the top of the mountain

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Resting at the small camp at the top of the mountain

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A section of the fuselage

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The Alpine Adventurers L to R:- Rear Row - Michael Bennet, Alan Bates, Max Blackburn (with hat), Ian Ferguson; Middle Row - Geoff Billing, Sally Bennet, Stewart Owen; Front Row - Michael Tomlinson, Andrew Owen, Michael Matthews

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The Alpine Adventurers L to R:- Rear Row - Michael Bennet, Alan Bates, Max Blackburn (with hat), Ian Ferguson; Middle Row - Geoff Billing, Sally Bennet, Stewart Owen; Front Row - Michael Tomlinson, Peter Dunn, Michael Matthews

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Small memorial plaque cemented into a rock just below the track adjacent to the large section of the fuselage.

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 Close-up of the memorial plaque

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Andrew Owen

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L to R:- Peter Dunn (front), Ian Ferguson and Stewart Owen 

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Michael Matthews holding what may be a 21lb Marine Marker. They are dropped in to the sea and give off smoke and flame. This was located at the bottom of the mountain near the walking track.

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Michael Matthews holding what may be a 21lb Marine Marker. 

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Our 4WD's at the Cryptocarya camping area at the bottom of the mountain

 

 


 

Andrew Owen led another party of adventurers to the crash site on Saturday 2 April 2016. The group comprised:-

Andrew Owen
Alex Owen
Stewart Owen
Alan Bates
Simon Bartlett
Stuart Topp
Russell Topp
Leah Thomson
Annabel Wallace

Here are some of the photos from that visit.

 

Eastern track leading into Cryptocarpa at the end of the day

 

Russell Topp, Leah Thomson, Simon Bartlett, Alex Owen, Alan Bates, Stuart
Topp, Annabel Wallace, Stewart Owen at the creek crossing

 

Simon Bartlett at the engine half way up the creek bed

 

Russell Topp and Leah Thomson at the engine

 

Simon Bartlett at Port wing tip

 

Alex Owen in Fuselage

 

Stewart Owen, Annabel Wallace and Alex Owen at fuselage

 

Steel bulkhead? Component (about 3' long, by 9" wide,
flat on one long edge and convex on the other)

 

Fuselage starboard side showing metal cutouts

 

Looking west from the bottom of the cliff line about 100m below the
crash site. The profile of the mountain in the centre of the photo
indicates the steepness and ruggedness of the country.
Cryptocarpa is to the right and behind that mountain.

 


 

Stephen Frawley told me that when he lived at Woodenbong in the 1960's, in the mountains near the QLD/NSW border he heard of a timber worker who used some machine-gun barrels from a "Lincoln wreck" as tailpipes on his VW beetle!

 


 

Ewen Cameron is putting together a book with photographs of the history of the Lincoln crash which took the lives of the four aircrew, baby and nurse from Townsville en-route to Brisbane on Mt Superbus.

Ewen accomplished his second visit to the site in late 2001and would like to finally bring together in early 2002 those remaining, who had participated in the search and any of the deceased relatives to a gathering in Emu Vale to reflect on the tragedy of 46 years ago.

If you have any information on the relatives of the deceased or their descendants please contact:-

Ewen Cameron
M/s 191 New England Hwy.,
Cambooya
QLD 4358
Ph. No. 0746961200

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Andrew Owen for organising the trip to the crash site on 1 June 2002. I'd like to thank Keith O'Connell the son-in-law of Sqn/Ldr Charles Mason the 2nd pilot in this crash. Keith was also served in 10 Squadron.

 

REFERENCES

"Lincoln A73-64 revisited"
"Flying Safety - Spotlight 2/99"
by John Keighley

"Emu Vale - A Community Remembers - 40 years on - A Collection of Memorabilia relating to the Mt. Superbus Air Crash on 9th April, 1955"
compiled from Library resources at the Emu Vale State School, 1995

RAAF Mercy Flight Tragedy Memorial video

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 1 June 2002

This page last updated 26 August 2017