LOCKEED VENTURA
COLLIDED WITH BEACON MAST
AT MACKAY, QLD
ON 20 OCTOBER 1944

 

Lockheed Ventura A59-14 piloted by F/Lt Bevan Lutwych West (407264) of 13 Aircraft Repair Depot (13 ARD) at Breddan collided with a wireless mast and neon sign above Molloy's Hotel in Mackay, north Queensland while buzzing the city area just after 9 am on Friday 20 October 1944. On its first run over the city, residents ran from their houses and shops. Although the city had been buzzed before on a number of occasions, this event reached an all time low altitude. On a subsequent run over the city the Ventura flew very low along Sydney Street and the locals then heard a startling crash when the aircraft hit the steel mast over Molloy's Hotel in Sydney Street. The mast had previously been used to flash out the MK signal to night flying aircraft.

 

A much earlier photo of Molloy's Hotel in Sydney Street

 

The top of the mast was shattered and steel fragments showered down upon iron roofs and pavements in the vicinity. The local Police Chief was not impressed as he occupied a room below the mast. Although the aircraft struck the mast with a propeller and an engine casing, the damage was minimal enough for it to continue flying and land at the Mackay Airfield. Three feet of the mast's 100 feet had been sheared off. Some of the flying steel pierced the new roof of the Town Hall. Workmen were called back to repair the roof.

Steel fragments also rained down on the yard of the Town Hall and the nearby street. Mr. J. Doyle was driving a baker's delivery van and was lucky to avoid the shank of iron that crashed down on to the roof of his van. Mrs. S. Press and Miss Mavis Knight, clerks in the American QM store opposite the Town Hall were fortunately standing in the doorway when a 7 lb lump of steel fell down beside them. A steel bolt landed as far away as Dr. Chenoweth's surgery and shattered one of his windows.

There were numerous casualty calls to persons who fainted when the crash occurred. Elderly residents and inmates of the nearby Mater Hospital, and sick persons in adjacent surgeries were deeply upset by the incident.

The damage to the aircraft was minimal considering the impact and the damage to the mast. Part of a propeller tip was broken off and the plating beneath one engine had sheared off.

Mr. M. Ryan of Mitchelmore's electrical staff and Mr. Jim Molloy climbed the beacon mast and made it safe as best they could.

The Aircraft Accident Data report described the incident as follows:-

"Pilot collided with wireless mast & neon sign during unauthorised low flying"

Crew members were as follows:-

F/Lt Bevan Lutwych West (407264) - pilot
P/O C. E. Francis - 2nd pilot
F/Sgt Kevin Edwards Doran (A31169) - Navigator
Sgt D.J. Prideaux W/T Operator

There is a file in National Archives of Australia on the Court of Inquiry which was held after the incident. See NAA details below.

A district Court Martial was held at Townsville on 31 October 1944. F/Lt West was charged with three offences:-

F/Lt Bevan West was found guilty of all three charges and sentenced to be dismissed from His Majesty's Service and to pay 75:0:0 towards the damage caused. He was discharged from the RAAF effective 7 December 1944. Because of the nature of his discharge he was not paid War Gratuity.

Bevan West wrote a letter dated 2 January 1960 to the Secretary of the Department of Air at Victoria Barracks in Melbourne requesting an immediate review of his termination of his appointment as an officer of the Royal Australian Air Force. This followed him being advised that his application for a loan from the War Service Homes Division to purchase a home may not be approved due to the nature of his discharge from the RAAF.

Pilot Officer Bevan Lutwych West had been involved in an earlier aircraft accident at Ross River Airfield in Townsville in Beaufort A9-383 on 16 August 1943.

 

REFERENCES

"Ventura A59-14 - Court of Inquiry re collision with beacon tower at Mackay on 20/10/1944
NAA File Item Barcode 506297, Control Symbol 32/18/505, Series No. A705

"Low Flying Plane Hits Mackay Beacon"
Daily Mercury (Mackay), Saturday 21 October 1944

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Glen Hall and Col Benson for their 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 7 October 2019

This page last updated 02 February 2020