The RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster

This coming week marks the 45th anniversary of the RAAF’s worst peacetime air disaster, the crash of a Caribou transport aircraft from 38 Squadron in Papua New Guinea’s Morobe province on 28 August 1972. With 29 on board (three RAAF crew and 26 passengers) the aircraft disappeared en-route from Lae to Port Moresby.

Most of the passengers were PNG high school cadets from the 35th Cadet Battalion, returning home from their annual cadet camp in Lae. They were accompanied by an Australian Army officer and a Cadet officer, also from Australia.

 

Despite an intensive search by RAAF, Army and civilian aircraft, the Caribou remain undiscovered for several days due to its remote location and extensive tree canopy.

A searching Army Sioux helicopter located several survivors who had walked from the crash site. RAAF Iroquois were called, and the survivors were able to lead crew to the crash site, which was near the crest of a ridge. The survivors were evacuated by helicopter that evening.

Only four of those onboard survived, all cadets. Excerpts from the official RAAF Inquiry (see picture) name those on board and describe their fate.

Army engineers were able to construct a temporary helipad near the crash site, and Iroquois helicopters ferried investigators and others in and out over the coming weeks. A cross was erected on the helipad before the site was abandoned.

A memorial service is held each year at de la Salle High School at Bomana, near Port Moresby, where most of the cadets were students.

 

 

 

 

On this day in 1916 and 1917

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War was wounded in action three times in 1916 and 1917, with two of those occurrences being serious enough to require evacuation to England and subsequent hospitalisation.

Both evacuations occurred on 18 August, firstly on 18 August 1916 after he was wounded near Pozieres on 12 August 1916, and secondly on 18 August 1917 after being wounded near Messines.

He returned to the Western Front following both evacuations, and returned to Western Australia in November 1918.

Sadly, he suffered a serious mental breakdown from which he never recovered and died in Perth in December 1935. He story is told in biography The most fearless and gallant soldier I have ever seen, which was published in 2016.

Martin O’Meara VC starts rescuing the wounded…

Martin O’Meara, Australia’s only Irish-born Victoria Cross recipient of the First World War, started to rescue wounded men from No Man’s Land near Pozières on 9 August 1916.

O’Meara was a scout with the 16th Battalion, and was patrolling No Man’s Land in the early hours of 9 August 1916, following a disastrous attack on German positions by the 15th Battalion the previous night, when he encountered many seriously wounded Australian (from the 15th Battalion)  and British (from the Suffolk Regiment) men. He was able to removed a number of them to safety during the course of the day. The 16th Battalion attacked the same German positions that evening, with better results.

O’Meara remained with the 16th Battalion in the front line until 12 August 1916 when the unit was withdrawn, and was himself wounded on 12 August 1916.

On 8 September 1916, whilst he was recovering in hospital in London, the announcement was made that  O’Meara had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions the previous month:

HIS MAJESTY THE King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned soldier:-

No. 3970 Private MARTIN O’MEARA

For most conspicuous bravery. During four days of very heavy fighting he repeatedly went out and brought in wounded officers and men from “No Man’s Land” under intense artillery and machine gun fire. He also volunteered and carried up ammunition and bombs through a heavy barrage to a portion of the trenches, which was being shelled at this time. He showed throughout an utter contempt of danger, and undoubtedly saved many lives.

O’Meara returned to Australia in November 1918, but suffered a serious mental breakdown and spent the rest of his life in several mental hospitals in Perth. He died in 1935.

Martin O’Meara’s story is told in The Most Fearless and Gallant Soldier I Have Ever Seen, published in 2016.