CRASH OF A BEAUFREIGHTER
(CONVERTED BEAUFORT)

2 MILES WEST OF GARBUTT AIRFIELD
TOWNSVILLE, QLD
ON 13 NOVEMBER 1945

 


Photo:- via Darren Crick

Beaufreighter A9-736 similar to A9-733

 

On 13 November 1945, an RAAF Beaufreighter IX, A9-733 (a converted Mk VIII Beaufort), of 5 Communications Unit, crashed into a field at 1612 hours approximately 2 miles west of Garbutt Airfield near Mount Louisa in Townsville. The aircraft caught fire when it hit the ground and the crew and passengers were all killed:-

Squadron Leader Francis Henry Wann Robilliard (1973), pilot - Commanding Officer of 5 Communications Unit
Pilot Officer Andrew James Turton (414176), W/OP/Air
LAC Frederick Robinson Palmer (46793), passenger
LAC Russell Aubrey Ballard (72572), passenger
LAC Basil Colin Hely Crocker (53125), passenger
LAC Eric Francis Dunne (441124), passenger
LAC Leonard Jack Hackett (170901), passenger

The passengers were all ground staff of 5 Communications Unit. They were on the flight to provide a full load for the test flight. LAC Fred Palmer was due to be discharged but had pleaded with F/Sgt Edward "Ted" Grove to go on the test flight. Ted Grove approached the pilot Sqn Ldr Robilliard at 1500 hours to get permission for Fred Palmer to go on the flight. The reason given was that Fred Palmer had worked on the 80-hourly service on the aircraft.

 


Photo:- via Maurice Kissane

LAC Frederick Robinson Palmer (46793)

 

The aircraft was on a Test Flight after an 80-hourly inspection. With the test completed S/Ldr Robilliard returned to the landing circuit at Garbutt Airfield and lowered the wheels for landing. When the aircraft was approximately three quarters of the way down the downwind leg heading south, the aircraft suddenly went into a steep dive from about 1,000 to 1,200 feet. Both engines remained under full power and the Beaufreighter struck the ground almost vertically at great speed. All occupants were killed instantly, and the aircraft disintegrated, exploded an burnt. Wreckage was spread over an area of approximately 100 yards by 30 yards with the tail unit and engines being the only large components recognisable amongst the wreckage.

The aircraft had previously been declared unserviceable by Flight Lieutenant Pittman on 30 October 1945 and again on 7 November 1945 for jamming of the elevator trim. Pittman told the court of inquiry that the elevator trim had jammed after putting the wheels down in the circuit area at Cairns. He landed without use of the trim and he stated that the backward pressure necessary on the control column was by no means excessive.

On testing the trim after landing, the trim wires could be heard rubbing against the guard at the rear of the fuselage compartment. The guard was removed, the rubbing ceased, and no further trouble with the trim was experienced on the return flight. The maintenance crew re-shaped and replaced the guard, tested the trim, and found it worked satisfactorily.

On the second occasion, the trim again jammed in the circuit area at Cairns. After landing, the pilot found the same symptoms and remedied the fault in the same manner. The maintenance crew again serviced the trim, and the NCO in charge himself checked the work. The aircraft then underwent its 80-hourly inspection.

No definitive conclusion was reached as to the cause of this tragic accident despite a careful investigation. A similar accident had occurred to Beaufort A9-303 at East Sale on 13 September 1943 and the cause of that crash also remained obscure. It seemed hardly probable that carbon monoxide poisoning of the pilot could occur during the flight of 17 minutes in a Beaufreighter which has been operating for such a long time.

Because of the previous failure of trimming tabs in these aircraft, a fault which had been corrected, the Medical Officer unfortunately did not think to carry out a test for Carbon Monoxide poisoning. It seemed more likely that if the pilot had collapsed it was due to some other cause. Despite this, the Director General of Medical Services was approached to ensure that a test for Carbon Monoxide would be carried out for all future obscure Beaufort fatal accidents.

 


Photo:- via Maurice Kissane

Possibly A9-733 but that is not confirmed. LAC Fred Palmer is second
 from left. This photo may include his mates who were killed in A9-733.

 


Photo:- via Maurice Kissane

RAAF pallbearers carry the coffin of LAC Fred Palmer on 15 November 1945
leaving St. James Church of England Cathedral, Oxley Street, Townsville

 


Photo:- via Maurice Kissane

RAAF Funeral procession for the seven victims of
A9-733 in Townsville on 15 November 1945.

 

REFERENCE BOOK

"Diary of WWII - North Queensland"
Complied by Peter Nielsen

"Aircraft and Markings of the RAAF 1939 - 1945"
By Geoffrey Pentland

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Maurice Kissane for his assistance with this web page. Maurice is the great nephew of LAC Frederick Robinson Palmer (46793) who was killed in this tragic crash.

 

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 22 May 2018

This page last updated 28 May 2018