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.