CRASH OF A CATALINA
INTO THE SEA OPPOSITE WONDERRABAH KNOB
PORT STEPHENS, NSW
ON 24 MAY 1943

 

catalina01.jpg (9850 bytes)
Catalina

 

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-39 (USN 0826), of 3 Operational Training Unit Rathmines (3 OTU) crashed during a landing in rough seas opposite Wonderrabah Knob, Port Stephens, New South Wales at 0915 hours on 24 May 1943.  He struck an unusual wave and crashed while practicing circuits and landings on the water at Port Stephens. The aircraft had been delivered to the RAAF in February 1942. The flight was part of an inspection of the Broken Bay and Port Stephens areas. F/Lt Higgins had flown to Port Stephens to see if the water was rough enough to carry out rough water landings as laid down in No. 3 OTU training. The OTU course had been extended by one week so that the pilots could get training in rough water landings. F/Lt Higgins had apparently decided that Broken Bay was not suitable for the training and proceed to Port Stephens where he crashed on landing.

Seven men were killed in the crash and two were injured as follows:-

Flight Lieutenant Brian Hartley "Tubby" Higgins DFC (400620) - Pilot - Killed
Pilot Officer Max Alexander Larkan (409842) - 2nd Pilot - Killed
Sergeant Alan Fullerton Craddock (408799) - 2nd Pilot - Killed
Pilot Officer Norman John Brown (411992) W.A. Gunner - Killed
Corporal Thomas Henry Poole (19812) Fitter 2E - Killed
LAC Henry George Lovett (21419) - Fitter 2A - Killed
Sergeant John Johnson (411710) - W.A. Gunner - Seriously injured
Corporal Jaffre David James (8164) - Fitter 2E - Killed
AC1 Kenneth Carlyle Stow (72521) - Armourer - Slight Shock

This was the only war-time loss of a Catalina at Rathmines during training exercises. Corporal Cummings assisted with the salvage of this aircraft.

The US Navy's Landing Force Equipment Depot, Seventh Amphibious Force at Port Stephens was called on to assist after the accident by HMAS Assault. Their ambulance was used to take the injured to the HMAS Assault dispensary and two of the bodies to the US Navy's hospital. One of the huts in the US Navy's Hospital area was used as a morgue. Lieutenant Maynard C. Nelson, (MC) V-(S), USNR, performed two operations on the injured men, both of which were successful. The US Navy also provided some equipment and medical supplies to the HMAS Assault dispensary before the initial surgical operation could be performed. The US Navy also offered their services to assist with the recovery of the other five bodies but their services were not required.

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

A Catalina at Mackay Airport - 1961

A Catalina at Mackay airport - 1961

 

The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Brian Hartley "Tubby" Higgins DFC (400620), had been involved in an earlier similar dangerous sea landing near Palm Island in north Queensland on 20 July 1942.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Newton, John, "RAAF Rathmines", 1977

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Bob Wylie for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 15 May 2004

This page last updated 02 March 2022