14th 1962, CAC Wackett Trainer VH-BEC, flown by its owner, James
Knight, set out from Ceduna, South Australia with the intention
of heading west for Cook, also in S.A. Unbeknown to the pilot,
his compass mount had become loose and he flew a compass bearing
which took him north not west. At some point he must have flown
over the trans-continental rail line without recognising it and
continued north until he ran out of fuel. Despite an extensive
search by 18 aircraft over two weeks, the aircraft and its pilot
could not be found.
The fate of the Wackett remained a mystery for more than three
years, until the 28th March 1965 when the lost aircraft was found
by Adastra Hudson VH-AGE which was conducting a geophysical survey
under the command of Keith Cooper . The Wackett was located approximately
200 miles north of Cook and approximately 60 miles from Everard
Park Station homestead. It had apparently made a successful landing
between sandhills. The identity of the aircraft was confirmed
by a second over-flight by an unidentified aircraft on 29th March.
A ground party of four men in two Land Rovers and led by Constable
Tom Murray MBE set out from Emu Strip in the Maralinga atomic
testing area on 3rd April 1965. (It was Tom Murray who used to
do all the long-range patrols out of Maralinga during the atomic
test period to keep the local population out of the area). The
ground party had to travel through difficult sandhill country
and did not reach the aircraft until 6th April. The group found
the Wackett intact and apparently lined up ready for take-off,
awaiting fuel which never arrived. The pilot, having no idea where
he was, stayed with the aeroplane and scratched his diary along
with his last will and testament into the paint of several metal
panels on the fuselage. The last entry in the diary was made on
20th January 1962. The compass in the Wackett was found to be
registering a 30 degree error.
A Cessna 310 was chartered from South Australian and Territory
Air Service (SAATAS) in Adelaide to take the second-in-charge
from the Range up to view the location of the aircraft. They also
dropped some spare wheels to the ground party as the going was
taking a heavy toll on tyres. Tom Murray, the Commonwealth Policeman,
said he would be able to locate the pilot's body within a few
days but this was considered to be pointless, as the dingoes would
have dispersed his remains, so the pilot's body was never recovered.
The ground party removed the fuselage panels bearing the pilot's
diary and took them and the aircraft compass back to Maralinga
where the Commonwealth Police photographed the diary and will
for the pilot's next-of-kin.
James Knight had been due to marry an Adelaide girl who was named
in the diary scratched into the paint of the fuselage panels.
In a poignant twist to the tragedy, life had moved on for James
Knight's former fiancee in the three years following his disappearance
and on the very day that the Wackett was discovered by Adastra,
she was being married.
The Wackett lay in the desert until recovered by Bill Kinsman
in 1977. In 1981-82 the aeroplane was restored for the Central
Australian Aviation Museum in Alice Springs where it is now displayed.
to go to the CAAM website.
The Adastra Hudson VH-AGE,
which found the missing Wackett, was itself lost in a tragic crash
at Tennant Creek on 24th September 1966 with the loss of all on
Hudson VH-AGE photographed at Maralinga
supplied by Rob Hornsby.
The Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia
Vol VI No 4, April 1965, p.22
also The Missing Wackett Vol. 2