One of Australia’s worst aircraft crashes happened on this day 70 years ago.
On Sunday 10 March 1946 an Australian National Airways Douglas DC-3 (registration mark VH-AET) crashed into the sea less than two minutes after takeoff from Cambridge aerodrome in Hobart, killing all 25 people on board. It was Australia’s worst civil aviation accident at the time.
Investigation in those days—before flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders were invented—was difficult and uncertain. An investigation panel put forward possible causal factors for the crash were put forward: inadvertent engagement of the autopilot, pilot incapacitation, due to the unreported diabetes of the pilot, and bird strike.
The autopilot had been recovered with a valve position suggesting it was switched on but with its gyroscope still caged (unable to move freely). Investigation of the pilot’s medical records found he had been diagnosed as diabetic, and discharged from the RAAF in 1941 as medically unfit. Later he had been in hospital with diabetes but told the airline he had had influenza.
A Tasmanian ornithologist said he had been shown the remains of a gannet about the time of the crash and had classified its injuries as consistent with having struck a hard, moving, object. A gannet is a large seabird that dives rapidly and steeply towards the sea.
However, a judge was unable to decide which, if any of the three theories had been behind the crash.
The loss of VH-AET still reverberates among relatives of the 25 people who died. Jim Wootton, 87, the son of one of the passengers, told the Sunday Tasmanian watching his 46-year-old daughter recently at a beach near the crash site had brought on unexpected emotions.
‘It was sort of a very strange sensation to be in the place and to have a daughter who would have loved this particular grandfather,’ he said.
The newspaper reported Mr Wootton as saying a memorial for the 75th anniversary of the crash would bring people together.