News

‘These victims deserve to be remembered’: Ten died in 1945 plane crash

By McIvor Times

AT 8.30am on January 31, 1945 a mail plane travelling from Melbourne to Broken Hill crashed in a paddock at Spring Plains, killing the two pilots and eight passengers.

No memorial has ever been erected for those who perished but Redesdale’s Rob Chapman is determined to change that.

Mr Chapman was introduced to Ian Kerr, who said he had an unusual connection to the area. Ian explained his uncle and cousin were killed in a plane crash in 1945 and noted there was no marker for the tragedy.

After having no luck with the local council, Mr Chapman was able to interest Greens candidate for Euroa Keppel Cassidy in erecting a monument.

“Mr Cassidy expressed a keen interest in local history and was willing to attend a small meeting at the Rural Cafe in Redesdale to research the background of the incident and the subsequent lack of interest by government for 72 years,” Mr Chapman said.

The crash occurred when a wing outboard of one of the motors suddenly separated from the plane, a modified Stinson in the Australian National Airways fleet named Tokana.

Eyewitness accounts vary slightly but agree that as the wing came off, the plane went into a spin, turned over twice in a rapid descent from about 2000ft while the parted wing came down three quarters of a mile away in a gravel quarry.

The differences in accounts refer to unusually long flames coming from one engine’s exhaust prior to a mid-air explosion or an exceptionally loud backfire when the wing fell off and the plane bursting into flames before impact.

This differs from other generally accepted accounts that the plane had burst into flames upon impact.

Local resident Jim Coombe was 13 in 1945 and boarding in Kyneton during the week to attend school.

The Coombe’s farm was close to the crash site and Jim’s father, Clarrie, a WWI veteran, attended the crash to assist but like so many others he realised there was little they could do as the wreck burnt fiercely.

Mr Coombe remembers the event vividly, seeing the burnt wreckage, the impact site and his father’s recollections of the incident as well as other eyewitness accounts. He strongly believed there was a cover up managed by the authorities at the time.

He believed the full story had not been told and was brushed aside in hopes it would fade away in history.

Early in 1945 the Japanese Imperial Army was still entrenched in south east Asia and fighting doggedly on the other side of the Torres Strait and Arafura Sea.

Japan was still regarded as a threat to the Australian mainland.

An American aviation expert and representative of the Allison Engine Company who was on loan to the Royal Australian Air Force, known only as Mr H.F. Black, was a passenger on board the downed flight.

One theory put forward about the cover-up theory by Mr Coombe was it was to prevent Axis sympathisers or Japanese propaganda from claiming credit for bringing down the plane or creating fear in the minds of the Australian people that such an attack was possible.

Mr Black was here to help Australia in the war effort and it later became clear that he carried sensitive documents.

As news of the crash reached Melbourne a woman was sent up to the crash scene with special authority to collect all the papers that were strewn about the site.

Mr Coombe believed the documents were detailed plans of an engine.

“For the Australian government to lose a high profile foreign war advisor would have been a severe embarrassment and either poor maintenance of aircraft or unlikely sabotage by Axis agents would not promote confidence in Australia to our key ally,” Mr Chapman said.

“There was another passenger of high profile who was connected with the war effort, John Gordon Jensen. The 27-year-old was a son of J.K. Jensen, Secretary of the Department of Munitions. He was appointed a cadet engineer at the Commonwealth Ammunition Factory in Footscray.

“Regardless of the cause of the aircraft’s crash these victims deserve to be remembered.

“Hopefully with the help of the communities of Redesdale and Mia Mia and Mr Keppel Cassidy’s advocacy a successful resolution can be achieved.”

The following are the names and ages of those who also perished.

F Kerr, an inspector of mines from Broken Hill and his 17-year-old son Colin (the relatives of Ian Kerr).

Roy Fairfax Richardson, a mechanical supervisor.

Kevin Lawn, 10, and his brother Peter Lawn, 11.

John Tayeur, who was 57.

Alan Murn, 27-year-old pilot

Orville Openshaw, 35-year-old first officer