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(generated from captions) Thanks, a re-cap of our top stories tonight. There are cracks in support for the Federal

Government's plan to crack down

indigenous communities in the on child sex abuse in

NT. And military NT. And the Australian Iranian gun boats had tried military has confirmed that

unsuccessfully to capture Australian sailors three years ago. And that's ABC News. Stay with us now for Stateline Philip Williams coming and Craig Allen and the Philip Williams coming up next

here tomorrow night at 7. Have Canberra news team will be back

a good weekend.

Closed Captions by CSI welcome to Stateline. What you get when you combine an welcome to Stateline. What do

obsessive Stateline director with a tragic story that has intrigued for decades? That director is Geoff Crane story he's director is Geoff Crane and the

is right here in our own reshaped our political landscape. It still causes controversy and has remained a

mystery. Close to busy airport, hidden from view mystery. Close to Canberra's

and almost forlorn amongst maturing pine, stands a memorial no 10 men who perished in a catastrophic Folklore has this place haunted in a catastrophic aircrash.

by ghosts and all their associated stories. A place enter if you dare associated stories. A place to

stormy nights and of despair and tragedy. What happened here in Cameron's paddock was not only great personal an event that would n a time war, shock a nation and rattle an event that would n a time of

the confidence of its leaders. And I felt that was the stuff leaders. And I felt that this

be I actually thought this would write. Because this was, at the be an incredible story to

felt right across the nation. Just before 11am on an Air Force Lockheed approaching to land. On board an Air Force Lockheed Hudson is are several ministers and their aid e, heading to Canberra on essential war business. Nothing wrong with the weather, perfect flying conditions and aircraft reports its approach. flying conditions and the

It is observed to overfly city and head towards the airport. There are officers on the ground watching the approach and the aircraft was seen to lower undercarriage and flaps. It's at that point that you need to be very careful with approach speed. be very careful with your

was seen to drop one wing spear into the low hills. strikes swiftly in Canberra country side Australia mourn s Canberra country side and

James Fairbairn minister for Australia mourn s sons. Mr

the air. Mr Street. General s broom hill Gullett, lieutenant F broom hill White, Sir Henry

Wiesener. Corporal JF Thornthwaite. Mr Elford. Mr

and Mr Crosdale. In one Wiesener. Corporal JF Palmer

devastating blow, new and young prime minister devastating blow, a relatively

Robert men zshs had only three key members of his cabinet but close, loyal friends. For each and every one served his country nobely of them was a patriot who

well. served his country nobely and the crash led by Justice Charles Lowe and a separate Air Force investigation found error for the cause. The blame falling squarely at the the aircraft's commander, Flight Lieutenant Robert Hitchcock. Yet each great pains to state was an above average pilot great pains to state that he

adequately trained. was an above average pilot and

it then that an experienced Air Force pilot of the time could crash newest and most modern aircraft

close to landing on what was a perfect August morning? Was Hitchcock really up to the or, as it has been was someone else at or, as it has been suggested,

controls? I knew Hitchcock and I was a training course with him in 1935. And when I heard about Hitchcock crashing, this is Hitchcock crashing, this

when I was in England, when I heard about him crashing, just turned around and said heard about him crashing, I

my colleagues "Hitchcock just an accident waiting to my colleagues "Hitchcock was

happen." I flew with lob Hitchcock circuits around almost circuits around Laverton and the aircraft and sat up the front, I had the feeling he was very tentative, to use other words, he was not term. He was very tentative. In

confident that he other words, he was not fully

was doing. We had a term in the confident that he knew what he

aircraft was flying him, he wasn't flying Lockheed Hudson A16-97 number 2 squadron only a couple brand new aircraft delivered to

of weeks before the One of the crew members also new, Flight Officer Richard Wiesener. He had joined the squadron the before. The two other joined the squadron the day

members were radio operator Corporal John Palmer and aircraftsman John Crosdale. Crosdale's wife that day expecting their first child. The day early child. The day began quite and he flew the plane first from Laverton in Victoria to Essendon where passengers. Then at about 9 Essendon where he picked tup

clnths 30 they to Canberra and the clnths 30 they began the flight

clear, smooth flying all the way. Once above Canberra, he circled and radioed to get permission to land. But while on the airfield, he had to make a on the run into Canberra to the

slight adjustment by the nose of the plane to avoid a low hill. This proved to fatal error because the plane slowed too rapidly causing to stall. He then lost control of the plane which spiraled out of control. control moments of control. But only regained

late. The plane pancaked into paddock. A large log tore through the fuel tanks and the plane burst into inferno was so intense that no-one could get near the aircraft. Some have they'd could even they'd could even see, rather gruesomely, the passengers in the aircraft but most knew no-one was going to survive. With the Air fire unit ill prepared an incident, it Canberra and Queanbeyan brigades to fight brigades to fight the blaze. Once bodies were rekoverd and briefly checked, they were taken to the Canberra morgue for closer examination. If you look at the photographs of of the plane except for the tail section. And even the remains that were recovered from the aircraft were from the aircraft were really just ashes. Menzies said in the parliament "It parliament "It is a great calamity, the full significance of which even yet is not fully realised. Every realised. Every man concerned was doing an important war service. Each of my three cabinet colleagues was a man of character and intense loyalty. Their loss just does not bear thinking about." I thinking about." I hadn't realised at that stage realised at that stage the ramifications of what he done in knocking off done in knocking off several very important passengers. very important passengers. So after I had heard about that little bit later, it, it took me back it, it took me back to Hitchcock's father Hitchcock's father and Kingsford Kingsford Smith and the reason why Hitchcock was inducted into flying training. He's eldest son of three boys who are the sons Hitchcock, the mechanic Hitchcock, the mechanic who perished with perished with Anderson in the kookaburra dast ner kookaburra dast ner the desert. When Hitchcock went missing it was big news everwr and also the searchers that went up which failure, which resulted ultimatery in ultimatery in the government sending off to find the Southern Cross with Kingsford Smith and with Kingsford Smith and then themselves perishing. Now that event created a huge furore. It was case involving Kingsford Smith and Ulm and as a result and Ulm and as a result of that, Hitchcock maintained that his mother had been given a verbal promise by Government to for the three sons in one or other of the three defence services when they came of age. I didn't know anything about this until about this until I met Hitchcock on course. And he was a bit of a loner and I'd talk with him quite often and told me that the Government had promised his mother that he will be taken care of. He'd originally come into the service back in 1934, which is six years before as a stores hand at number air craft depot at air craft depot at Laverton and about a about a year after he arrived, he had requested to through flying training, got his wish in 1935 and graduated in 1936. People who are on course with him at the thought it was thought it was unlikely that he was really going to finish course because he showed very poor aptitude for flying. It was a very small air force in those days an a couple of my friends told me that it was common knowledge had been taken off flying and I thought well it will probably save Hitchcock's life because he apparently was so appallingly bad. I've appallingly bad. I've seen the documentation there which led to the air member for personnel, personnel, who happened to be a RAAF officer, putting a recommendation to the air board that Hitchcock be terminated. Now mysteriously there's nothing in the records what took place at that air board meeting, but Hitchcock is not terminated. And the reasons for that are probably to be found in explanations that the people I've spoken to people I've spoken to have offered, that at offered, that at Richmond, for example, the example, the base commander there when approached about the desire desire of his instructors to terminate Hitchcock said terminate Hitchcock said no, you have you have to persist with him, it's a political decision, he's to be kept on. All we knew this one was a big one, it this one was a big one, it went to the top and when you're to do something you to do something you just persist with it. The parliamentary hansard of August 14, 1940 reveals that much 14, 1940 reveals that much of that support had come John Curtin. I refer particularly to Flight Lou particularly to Flight Lou ten nant nant Hitchcock whom I knew well. well. His father perished while engaged in work of the beginning of aviation in Australia. Not very that bereavement, Bob Hitchcock Jr urged me to do my best Jr urged me to do my best to secure his entry into the Royal effort that I made was successful. His promotion successful. His promotion was rapid. It could be said that the tan mie desert had the tan mie desert had two disaster. It's especially sad that something was intended a kindly gesture, intentioned gesture. He had such a terrible end in the fact that somebody who probably continue an Air Force career had gone beyond the pass - past the point where the point where they were really able to handle the sort of situation they found on 13 August hof 40. At Laverton, Victoria, the Air Force meets aircraftsman the broad recruit. In 1938 he was flying an Avro Anson and collided another Anson on take King Island. Fortunately there were only minor injuries were only minor injuries to personnel. On the return flight to Laverton of an evening, he began to began to fly up a valley and the cloud was at the end of the valley was closed, so he turned around in the around in the Anson and for some reason he panicked and he put the Anson down in a paddock, wheels down, ran through a fence, avoided some huge rocks and we all out of it. I think out of it. I think it's indicating that indicating that Hitchcock didn't improve once he got didn't improve once he got out into the wider service flying life, that in life, that in fact he continued to to be a somewhat doubtful prospect as a pilot and, you know, to the point arksz I understand understand it, people were not all that comfortable all that comfortable flying with him, certainly when it came to landing. Only one came to landing. Only one month later Hitchcock began his transition from Anson to the new new Lockheed Hudson. He completed this training just three weeks prior to the crash. The transition from the Anson to the Hudson was quite a leap. The old Anson was a kind aircraft but the Hudson was a different kettle of fish. to what to what extent this was demonstrated to demonstrated to Bob Hitchcock and the other boys around and the other boys around there I don't know. But, as I say, it was delightful aircraft to fly, it could cruise along at it could cruise along at 250 knots but you get it back knots but you get it back to about 120km/h and that's when it said goodbye. Certainly Hitchcock had been caught out just days before this accident coming into land in a Hudson ex-commercial pilot and the officer warned him that he coming in 250 slow on his landing and breezely brushed that advice aside "She'll be right, mate", you you know. But over the years there has been considerable debate about whether it was Hitchcock at the controls. So on the approach, here at Fairburn, the flaps were Fairburn, the flaps were down, the wheels were the wheels were down, they were at about reason they just stalled it. Would Bob Hitchcock have stalled it on his own? I don't know, I doubt it. Because he was - although I say he was rr tentative and so on, he tentative and so on, he was a very cautious pilot. He wasn't a careless type of is a story - well I think it was given in evidence that as they were approaching they seemed to be undershooting, too low for the position back from the airfield and that they would tempted what was called a go around. You made a hash of this approach we'll have to this approach we'll have to go and do it again. Why would he have messed it up here? Let have messed it up here? Let me say again, somebody else had a hand in it, I think. Well I'd almost bet on it. If there almost bet on it. If there was any last suggestion that any last suggestion that there was from, you know, a certain politics involved in politics involved in Menzies response to the crash, that response to the crash, that is des meated by the poignant reading in the memoir in 'Afternoon Light' that came out in 1967. One passage in 1967. One passage in 'Afternoon Light' to me 'Afternoon Light' to me is seminal for a range of seminal for a range of reasons. It reads this way "A knock It reads this way "A knock came on my door on my door and somebody walked in. There had been a dreadful air crash, almost within of my windows. Gu let was Street was dead, Fairbairn was dead, the most scholarly and technically talented soldier technically talented soldier in history Sir Broomehill who I had recalled who I had recalled from retirement to g b retirement to g b chief of General staff was dead. And also many young men whom I knew. This was a dreadful calamity for my three colleagues were friends. Each had only in my cabinet but in my heart. I shall never forget that terrible hour. I felt that for me the end of the world had come." These were close colleagues so that would have had a personal impact on Menzies. One might have expected as have put him off flying, having a crash involving so many people that he knew personally and almost within sight of his office. But, you know, office. But, you know, almost immediately he launches on this huge trip around the world literally around which he puts himself which he puts himself in incredible danger. Menzies we know of course after the crash would go back to England. With there was with his death there was quite possibly the feeling that he would have felt needed to participate actively in the war where it was happening, and of course that twaz course that twaz European theatre. Fairbairn and theatre. Fairbairn and Street were Victorians, they were supporters of Menzies in a cabinet where not cabinet where not everyone was his supporter and there were his supporter and there were a lot of particularly after the fall France in June 1940 that Australia had to do more to defend itself. In 1939 Australia had no Australia had no modern fighter aircraft, it had no heavy bomber, it had no tanks, not one tank in Australia. It one tank in Australia. It was just extraordinary. It just extraordinary. It had no naval mines to protect the ports and the sea lanes of Australia. Australia Australia. Australia was wide open for invasion. It probably gave heart and strengthened the opponents of suspect. But Menzies did so much to strengthen himself simply by miz behaviour and particularly by going off to Britain for four months and then coming back empity handed. The tide was going out for the United Australia Party but I suspect the tide went the tide went out rather quicker because of that loss of experience experience on the Government's side. He would say later decades later when he looked back, that given that he experienced between the point of crash and his resignation I do believe it was a year and 15 days later, that in that period, had he had those men by his side he was certain that he would not have in fact ended up resigning as the minister. In the whole history of government in Australia, this was the most devastating tragedy. Frankly I don't believe that what happened later, my rejection and as I felt at the time my humiliation, would have happen fd these three men had lived. It certainly seemed to me that had Justice Lowe about the aircraft captain's shaky reputation as a pilot, might have might have thought able to give some more clear direction about the issues involved there. As it was, he put the blame it was, he put the blame for the accident directly on the pilot, whoever the pilot may be. And he very carefully indicated that he was aware surfacing at the time in the wake of the accident that Fairbairn had been in the pilot's seat at the time and in control of the control of the aircraft. I I think there's a number of reasons for the different because Fairbairn, the Minister for Air, really intended to fly his own aircraft to Canberra on that day and it was only a last-minute decision when Geoffrey Street had booked another plane, ab-Air plane, that they then decided they'd all fly was doing a was doing a little research on Mills Langslow Mills Langslow who was deputy secretary of air came across a let er came across a let er from Langslow to the head mationer of a school who of a school who had written in to suggest certain things about that aircraft crash, that it all came back to me again stimulated it. It really rang bell with me bell with me because Fairbairn saying to him, saying to this head master in Adelaide had to hand his own aeroplane in and would then instead in and would then instead of flying himself around, flying himself around, would be flying in he looked forward to did have some ind and he being an and he being an experienced pilot, by the way, a World War I pilot, great experience, I pilot, great experience, I'm certain that he would love to test test out - his own feelings about how hard or easy it was to fly a to fly a Hudson. When I return ed people who had been in squadron with me still there the morning still there the morning when Fairbairn and Hitchcock took off and they all emphasised when I asked them, we skuzed it, of course, that Hitchcock and Fairbairn and the crew taxied out. Now normally driving at driving at nearly the end of the runway or the take off direction, seven or eight minutes at the moment is minutes at the moment is all that was required in the Hudson to check the engines, ignition, set the control, set go. But they were there for go. But they were there for - the engines idling for 20 or 25 minutes. Seems to minutes. Seems to indicate, and I would almost bet on I would almost bet on it, that Bob Hitchcock was explaining to Fairbairn now you do it this way and this is way and this is that and you know, line up, open the throttles and I'll you. During the Air Force inquiry a control tower duty office er from Essendon claimed to have seen Richard Elford, the air minister's the air minister's assistant through through the open passenger door. When questioned no ground staff could be sure staff could be sure who was seated where on the plane but equally none could discount the theory that Fairbairn was near cleared it with the chief of the air staff, maybe. He certainly clear it with Freddy Thomas who was the commanding officer of the squadron. Freddy was quite was quite happy that Fairbairn could have a touch of controls. And I, know, I shouldn't say this. I talked to Freddy about it after the war when he was lord mayor. Hewise a bit a bit evasive but he didn't say - he didn't say to Fairbairn was not in the left-hand seat. In opinion, Fairbairn was in the left-hand seat, Hitchcock was in the right-hand seat. Hitchcock would have the full controls the same as Fairbairn. Canberra fire brigade station Maloney was the fire officer at the crash. detailed the removal of bodies in several reports. Working from the rear of the from the rear of the aircraft where the fire had been less intense towards the front, Maloney states that as the bodies were bodies were removed an attempt to identify them was made. to identify them was made. He also states that three bodies were removed from the nose of the aircraft. Canberra fireman time Heinz also at the would later would later reflect to his family his memories of the day. log which was in fact a body and the recollection that wrong person was flying the aircraft. I am skept kl about the theory that Fairbairn need to think about just the I guess the logic of a very senior minister taking leave from his colleagues to land the plane. Would he have really risked the lives of colleagues just to satisfy his curiousity about the aircraft? I don't think so. I I don't think so. I could only say that I personally feel that Fairbairn had a hand in Fairbairn had a hand in it. Whether the two opposed obthe controls at that stage, Nobody will ever know. Both the royal commission and the Air Force inquiry into the crash would recommend better training for pilots. It also recommended that no more than two government ministers travel together. As we know travel together. As we know the memorial was menzies in 1960 and the spot where the crash occurred. That spot is if you're on the airport going to Queanbeyan, it is going to Queanbeyan, it is now isolated, it is now isolated, it is now covered, it is an easy site to vandalise. And such has been the ongoing vandalism of the site have closed that gate. a national disaster, a disaster of disaster of such significance that it should be the immediate parliamentary area and it is to be hoped that at some time in the future we will have plaque which goes into the nature of that tragedy, the personal nature of that tragedy, the national nature of the tragedy. The National Museum of Australia personal items from the crash. While the Australian War Memorial and national archives hold extensive documentation on the disaster for all Australians to access. Lockheed Hudsons and their crews would go on to fly desperate and forces. The last flying forces. The last flying Hudson in the world resides with an aviation museum at Temora, NSW. While what truly happened on board A16-97 may forever board A16-97 may forever remain a mystery, there doubt of the this crash had on a nation and its

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