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Friday, 6 December 1935

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [11.25]. - by leave/ - I desire to inform honorable senators that the Government has received from AirCommodore Sydney Smith, Air Officer Commanding Singapore, a report on the search operations carried out under his direction for Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Mr. Pethybridge.

The report shows that Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, accompanied by Mr. John Thompson Pethybridge, was attempting a record flight from England to Australia in a single-engined Lockheed Altair aeroplane. Reports from the Government of India show that before leaving Allahabad at 125S hours Greenwich mean time on the 7th November, he announced his intention of flying nonstop to Singapore, but passing over Dum Dum (Calcutta) and Rangoon aerodromes. His aircraft was observed to pass over Dum Dum and is believed to have been sighted over Rangoon at 1900 hours Greenwich mean time. Mr. Charles James Melrose, who was also flying to Australia at the time, reported having been passed by an aeroplane flying in a direct line from Rangoon to Mergui when 150 miles south-east of Rangoon, at 2000 hours Greenwich mean time, on the 7th November, 1935 (2.30 a.m. local time, on the 8th November, 1935). Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's was the only other machine in the air in this vicinity at the time, and this is the last definite information available regarding his aircraft.

As soon as it was reported overdue at Singapore, the Commonwealth Government requested the Air Officer Commanding Singapore to institute a search for the missing airmen. He had, however, already acted on his own initiative. When the aircraft was four hours overdue he circulated information regarding it to all shipping and aircraft, port authorities, State and other civil officers, and police and railway officials throughout Malaya, Siam, and Burma. At dawn on the following morning, the 9th November, two Royal Air Force flying boats and two bomber aircraft commenced to search, and during the following ten days between six and eleven Royal Air Force machines searched continuously over all likely courses between Rangoon and Singapore, and made a close examination of all islands off the west coast of the Malay Peninsula. A Qantas machine based at Singapore was chartered by the Government to assist in the search of jungle areas, and Mr. G. J. Melrose, with commendable spirit, abandoned his attempted record-breaking flight to Australia in order to take part in the search. In addition to these comprehensive air searches, ground search parties were organized to examine jungle areas, and difficult country south of a line from Tavoy to Bangkok, which could not be covered by air observation. With the object of inducing the natives to undertake searches additional to those officially organized, the Commonwealth Government offered a reward of £500 for information that would lead to the discovery of the missing airmen, and the Australian Flying Corps Association of New South Wales later offered to supplement this reward by an amount of £100. Details of these rewards were widely promulgated throughout the Malay Peninsula, in appropriate languages, by wireless broadcasts through district officers, and by some 50,000 pamphlets dropped from the air. The Government has not considered expense in having everything humanly possible done to locate the missing airmen. None of the many suggestions made has been ignored, and each report likely to have even the remotest bearing on their whereabouts has been thoroughly investigated.

Some 28 days have now elapsed since Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Mr. Pethybridge disappeared; and as the comprehensive air and ground searches have failed to find any trace of either them or their aircraft, the Government is regretfully forced to the conclusion that there is now very little hope of their being found alive. The Government's offer of a reward for information will, nevertheless, remain open. Ground search operations are being continued, and Air-Commodore Sydney Smith has informed me that no effort will be spared until the whole area has been covered, as far as is practicable.

Although honorable senators are conversant with the outstanding achievements of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith in aviation, I should like to refer briefly to some details of his wonderful flying career. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in 1915, he later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, and qualified as a pilot in May, 1917. He was wounded in aerial combat in France, and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry then displayed. For a short time after the war he was engaged in flying in America. His connexion with commercial aviation in Australia commenced in 1921. For two years he was chief pilot of West Australian Airways, and in 1927 he formed his famous association with the late Mr. Charles T. P. Ulm. After some notable flights together in Australia, they completed in June, 1928, their world-famed trans-Pacific flight in the Southern Cross, from San Francisco to Brisbane, in 83£ hours' flying time. This was the first time the Pacific had been spanned by air, and the flight was justly acclaimed at the time as the most 'brilliant feat in flying and air navigation in the history of aviation. This achievement was suitably recognized by the Commonwealth Government, and gained for Kingsford Smith the Air Force Cross.

After record-breaking, non-stop flights between Melbourne and Perth, the first Tasman Sea crossing was made by Kingsford Smith and Ulm in September, 1928. Early in 1929, they made a record flight to England of slightly under thirteen days. Together they formed Australian National Airways, and for some time operated regular air services between Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart and Brisbane. Kingsford Smith's next big achievement was a flight across the Atlantic, and on to San Francisco, thus completing his circuit of the world by air. All these big flights were carried out in the famous Southern Cross, which was recently acquired by the Commonwealth Government.

In 1930, Kingsford Smith established a new record by flying solo from England to Australia in nine and a half days, and in 1931 he made some spectacular flights in the conveyance of air mails between Australia and England. He was appointed an Honorary Air-Commodore in the Royal Australian Air Force on the 1st November, 1930, and his noteworthy performances in connexion with civil flying wore recognized by His Majesty theKing, who in June, 1932, bestowed upon him the Order of Knighthood. In October, 1933, he gained the EnglandAustralia air record with a flight in seven days four hours, and held it for twelve months. In 1934, he made many record flights within Australia, and with Captain P. G. Taylor as co-pilot, again flew across the Pacific from Brisbane to San Francisco. On this occasion he used a single-engined aircraft, and this flight must be regarded as one of his most daring and striking achievements.

Kingsford Smith was lost while attempting to break the record established during the centenary air race last year. He had flown six times between Australia and England, three of these flights being record-breaking ones, and he was the first to fly across the Tasman Sea. He holds the unique and wonderful record of being the pilot of the only aircraft to cross the Pacific Ocean between America and Australia, and he was the only airman to traverse it by air in both directions. It is difficult to assess the value of Kingsford Smith's services to the development of civil aviation, not only in Australia, but also throughout the world. Certainly his supremacy as the greatest long-distance flier has remained unchallenged for many years. Australian airmen had an enviable record during the Great "War, and in the annals of post-war aviation the names of Hawker, Ross Smith and Hinkler, to mention only a few Australians, will always figure prominently. I doubt, however, whether the name of any pilot is entitled to be held in higher esteem for his services to the cause of aviation than is that of Air-Commodore Sir Charles Kingsford Smith.

Mr. J.T. Pethybridge had also been closely identified with aviation for many years. After serving with the Royal Australian Air Force for three years, he joined the Kingsford Smith organization in 1929, qualified as a pilot shortly, afterwards, and accompanied Kingsford Smith on several of his flights between Australia and New Zealand. Being a qualified aircraft engineer and flying instruc tor, as well as a highly experienced commercial pilot, he was a valued representative of the aviation industry in Australia. I move -

That this Senate:

Expresses its deep regret at the loss of Air-Commodore Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, M.C., D.F.C., and Mr. John Thompson Pethybridge when the aircraft in which they were flying to Australia, disappeared between Rangoon and Singapore on the 8th November, 1935;

Places on record its high appreciation of the unique and valuable services extending over many years rendered by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith to civil aviation in Australia, not only by his many brilliant pioneer and record-breaking flights, but also by his activities in connexion with the operation of regular airtransport services and the maintenance of a flying training organization;

Tenders to the widows and families of the missing airmen its profound sympathy in the irreparable loss they have sustained; and

Thanks all governments, civil organizations, officials and other persons who assisted in carrying out the comprehensive air and ground searches made for the missing airmen.

In connexion with the last portion of this motion, I should like to refer particularly to the assistance received from the following: -

His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, which approved of Royal Air Force aircraft undertaking the search;

The Government of India, which arranged wireless broadcasts, and collected valuable information regarding the missing airmen's movements across India ;

The British Minister at Bangkok for his personal interest and wholehearted assistance;

The Siamese Government, which unhesitatingly permitted Royal Air Force aircraft to operate over Siamese territory, and organized searches by ground parties ; and

Air Commodore Sydney W. Smith, O.B.E., Air Officer Commanding, Royal Air Force, Singapore, and all officers and airmen of the Royal Air Force who took part in the searches.

Air-Commodore Smith ordered the search to commence immediately the aircraft was reported overdue, and he accepted responsibility for the organization and direction of the extensive air and ground searches undertaken. His difficulties in conducting these operations were intensified by the lack of definite information regarding the itinerary of the missing airmen. Air-Commodore Smith exhibited a keen desire to meet the Government's wishes in every way, and had a sympathetic understanding of the anxiety felt by all Australians for news of the missing airmen. As an instance of this,, he prolonged the searches by Royal Air Force aircraft for many days after he had expressed the opinion that further air searches would be of no avail. A word of commendation is also due to the crews of the Royal Air Force machines who maintained their systematic investigation of the area often under bad weather conditions, and at no little risk when flying single-engined machines over jungle areas, and difficult, mountainous country.

The thanks of the Government are also tendered to -

Mr. CharlesJames Melrose, who abandoned an attempted recordmaking flight to Australia to take part in the search ;

The Straits Steamship Company, which diverted one of its steamers, and landed boats' crews at Sayer Island to investigate certain reports ;

Mr. E.L. Miles, Manager, Satupulo Tin Mines, who displayed keen, personal interest, and was particularly helpful in organizing ground search parties; and

Qantas Empire Airways, which readily agreed to their reserve aircraft at Singapore being placed at the disposal of the air officer commanding, and utilized as he considered desirable, particularly in the search over jungle areas.

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