CRASH OF A DRAGON DH84A
BETWEEN SYDNEY AND FOREST HILL, NSW
ON 17 APRIL 1943
Dragon DH84A, A34-47 of 34 Squadron RAAF went missing on a flight between Mascot Airfield, in Sydney and Essendon Airfield in Melbourne via Forest Hill on Saturday 17 April 1943. A34-47 left Mascot Airfield at 0956 hours on 17 April 1943. The wreckage of this aircraft has never been found. The following RAAF and US Marine Corps personnel were killed in this tragic accident:-
Sergeant Douglas Brian Doyle (412236) of 34 Squadron RAAF - Pilot
Sergeant Francis Joseph Doyle (420615) of 34 Squadron RAAF - Engineer
Flying Officer Geoffrey Hugh Lester (409154) of 3 Communications Flight RAAF
US Marine Corps
1st Lieutenant Horace Albert Teague (0-014229) (See Note below)
1st Lieutenant Cecil Joseph Umstead (0-0103899) (See Note below)
1st. Lt. Teague and 1st. Lt. Umstead were authorised to be passengers on the flight as they were reporting under orders to Marine Corps Headquarters in Melbourne. F/O Lester was in possession of a Leave Pass and was given authority to travel on the aircraft.
On 16 April 1943, the pilot Sgt Douglas Brian Doyle reported that he was having trouble with the starboard magneto. The aircraft was taken to 3 C.F. for repairs. Corporal Fitzhenry of 3 C.F. advised the next day that the aircraft was quite serviceable after checking the magneto, propeller belts and control wires. The aircraft was given a preflight check by 3 C.F. and found to be quite serviceable.
The aircraft was due to fly the route at 3,000 feet and arrive at Forest Hill at about 1236 hours. At 1415/17 hours an Overdue Message was received from Forest Hill by Department of Civil Aviation at Mascot Airfield. DCA contacted 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Bankstown in Sydney who advised they had 13 plots of the aircraft, the last being at 098șT 48 miles from Cootamundra at 1158/17 hours as advised by VAOC and that they were in contact with Forest Hill by phone, advising Forest Hill of the plots etc, that they had on the flight. At 0855 on the following day, Forest Hill advised that the aircraft was "last seen at Goulburn at 1215/17 hours bound south west...". The VAOC position was considered at the time to be more accurate than the Goulburn sighting.
Sapper Raymond McVey (N237295) was on duty as an Air Sentry at 18 Searchlight Battery, Chester Hill, NSW and reported that at 1007 hours he spotted an aircraft visually at 2,000 feet flying in a westerly direction. It was first sighted to the south east of his position. He said that it then passed over his position and he was able to identify it as a "Dragon Fly". It proceeded off in a westerly direction until it disappeared from view at a position approximately two miles south of Prospect Reservoir.
Miss Catherine Jane Adams, the Postmistress at Werombi was on duty as an Observer for the Volunteer Air Observer's Corps and advised that she was inside her house at 10:25am on 17 April 1943, and heard an aircraft. She went outside and saw a dark coloured aircraft in the south east direction heading to the south at a medium height. She advised that the speed of the aircraft was not very great and it seemed to be rising and falling slightly as it proceeded along.
VAOC at Goulburn advised Forest Hill that A34-47 had passed out of their area at 1215 hours heading south west.
Mrs. Doreen Donohoe of Central Burragorang Valley stated that at approximately 1 o'clock on Saturday 17 April 1943 she was putting the baby to sleep in the bedroom and heard what she considered to be an aircraft in difficulties. From the sound of the aircraft's she could tell that it was definitely flying on the eastern side of the valley. Shortly after hearing the aircraft she heard a crash on the mountain on the eastern side of the valley. She looked out her window and saw a cloud of dust rising in the air over the top of the mountain to the south of her house. She did not know for a few days that an aircraft had been missing until Constable Whitby starting asking local people if they had heard an aircraft near the valley. Ground searches were carried out with no result.
Squadron Leader John Wilfred Kingsford-Smith, the Controller of No. 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Bankstown, on receipt of an overdue signal from Forest Hill for A34-47 asked Flying Officer Rice to check VAOC plots on the aircraft. F/O Rice rang Goulburn who provided the following plots:-
1130 - T.H.9564 - S.W.
1135 - T.H.7857 - S.W.
1137 - T.H.7064 - W
1136 - T.H.6552 - W
1139 - T.H.5751 - W
1138 - T.H.5841 - S.W.
1145 - T.H.3638 - S
1150 - T.H.2530 - W
1152 - T.H.0314 - S.W.
1158 - T.G.8205 - S.W.
These plots were placed on the Operations Table at 1FSHQ and were found to make a definite track from Mascot to Forest Hill. The times were also consistent the times of an aircraft travelling at the speed of a DH-84 at 100 to 110 miles per hour. 1FSHQ checked their movement logs between the period 1000 - 1230 hours and found that there were no other aircraft in that area or on that track. The last plot was at the end of the western end of VAOC area of responsibility. This last plot was approximately 48 miles on a bearing of 098 degrees True from Cootamundra.
At 2300K hours on 18 April 1943, Squadron Leader Robert James Arthur (271994) who was the Controller, at Area Operations Room, Eastern Area received a phone call from S/Ldr Kingsford Smith of 1 Fighter Sector Headquarters at Bankstown who stated that the information given yesterday as to the track of the DH-84 was quite wrong and he gave the full story as follows:-
He stated that at 1415K on the 17th April, 1943, Fighter Sector received an overdue signal from Forest Hill. They immediately got in touch with V.A.O.C. and asked for all plots for the South-West between 1030 and 1230K. The Goulburn plots were kept in three separate logs, and they were asked to pass back the entries to the South West for the above period. About 1500K, Fighter Sector received thirteen plots between 1100 and 1158K, which would have made a perfect track for the D.H.84, and were definitely taken to be the D.H.84, the last position being 098 deg. Cootamundra 48 miles. He stated that the slip of paper on which these plots were written had been lost, and Fighter Sector rang Goulburn again today to have the plots repeated.
Goulburn had no record in their logs of these plots, no record of the plots being passed to Fighter Sector, and could not explain how the plots were passed. Consequently it appeared that the machine may not have reached that position east of Cootamundra, and there was no definite record of it beyond Camden. At 2247K on the 18th April, 1943, S/Ldr. Kingsford-Smith again phoned and stated that he had discovered the reason for the false plots - they were entries in the Goulburn log from the previous day and had been passed in error. The only accurate plots of the D.H.84 were (1) Mascot, (2) Bankstown, (3) Prospect Reservoir (4) 8 miles North West of Camden. He stated that there were many V.A.O.C. posts beyond there and the plane could not have passed without being reported.
The aircraft had left Sydney by the Western Lane, instead of the usual South Western Lane. He added that he was preparing a full report on the matter.
At approximately 0915K on 18 April 1943, the Duty Pilot at Forest Hill rang Flight Lieutenant Neville Carlyle Vickers (252485), the Controller, Area Operations Room, Eastern Area to advise that a DH-84 Dragon had been overdue since 1415k on 17 April 1943. He asked F/Lt Vickers if they had any further reports. He was advised that Eastern Area had not received any information on the incident. F/Lt Vickers asked what action had been taken by Forest Hill. The Forest Hill Duty Pilot advised that no action had been taken as they were under the impression that Eastern Area would arrange any necessary searches.
F/Lt Vickers pointed out that the Station at which the aircraft was overdue should, after checking with Fighter Sector as to the last plot, start a search or arrange for one to be carried out from the nearest Station.
F/Lt Vickers rang Fighter Sector and obtained the last plot of 098 degrees Cootamundra 48 miles and was advised that a signal had been sent from No. 3 Communication Flight requesting Forest Hill to carry out a search. S/Ldr Wood of No. 3 Communication Flight told F/Lt. Vickers that he was unaware of a signal being sent and asked F/Lt. Vickers to ring Forest Hill and request a search and advised that No. 3 Communication Flight aircraft could be used if necessary.
At approximately 1115K on 18 April 1943, the Controller at Fighter Sector rang to say that Forest Hill were carrying out a search with one Hudson and six Beaufighters.
S/Ldr Robert Arthur rang Camden at 2255K on 18 April 1943 and advised them of the above and instructed them to make a close search with two Avro Ansons as early as possibly on 19 April 1943. He suggested they ascertain from Fighter Sector the position of the next V.A.O.C. posts and search between them and the last know position of the missing aircraft.
At 2300K on 18 April 1943, S/Ldr. Arthur rang the Duty Pilot at Forest Hill, advising him of the latest information and informing him that they considered a further search from Wagga the next day would be useless, as Fighter Sector were quite definite that the aircraft could not be far from this end of the route.
At 0900 on 19 April 1943, three Avro Ansons of 73 Squadron carried out a search bounded by Cataract Reservoir, Goulburn, Peelwood, Blayney, Bathurst, Katoomba and Glenbrook. At 1530 three Avro Ansons covered the same area again.
At 0910 on 20 April 1943, five Avro Ansons including one from No. 3 Communication Flight carried out a search in the area bounded by Wallocla?, Wilton, Goulburn, Woodhousley, Chatebury, Taralga, Upper Burragorang, Camden, Burragorang, Farragdite?, Bringelly. The search was abandoned due to poor weather.
At 1015 on 21 April 1943 four Avro Ansons carried out a search in an area bounded by Wallocla?, Peelwood, Goulburn and Wilton. At 1500 on 21 April 1943, two Avro Ansons carried out a further search in an area bounded by Camden, Taralga, Tarlo, Bungeronta?, Burrawang, and Bargo. Verbal instructions were then received from Eastern Area to abandon the search.
The Court of Inquiry into the loss of this aircraft was "of the opinion that this aircraft was lost in very difficult and rugged country in the vicinity of Burragorang Valley. Ground and air searches were unsuccessful in locating wreckage."
Keith Dunlop told me on 11 February 2001, that whilst undergoing training for his private pilot's license with the Camden Aero Club in the 1970's he recalls seeing reference to this crash and the fact that it was never located. Pilots were asked, whenever flying over the Burragorang Valley in the area to keep a weather eye out for the wreckage. Keith commented that it was generally felt that wherever it went down it was possibly under the water in the dam.
A memorial was erected in about the year 2000 by relatives, friends, searchers, the local RSL and the people of Camden in the grounds of St. John's Anglican Church, Camden. It comprises a solid sandstone block on a sandstone plinth with a brass plate and inscription. (Can someone please send me a photo)
NOTE:- The American Battle Monuments Commission web site shows 1st Lt. Cecil Joseph Umstead and 1st Lt. Horace Albert Teague, both dying on the 18 April 1944. Perhaps this was the date that they were finally declared "Presumed Dead". It is exactly one year and one day after the aircraft went missing.
A34-47 Memorial Cairn - Monument Australia
I'd like to thank Peter Spring, Russ Adams, Keith Dunlop and Ted Whittorn for their assistance with this web page.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 13 July 2013
This page last updated 31 August 2015