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History

08 Feb 2018

History Image

Planes crash over Southbank

Living in Southbank, we are used to flying machines overhead – generally helicopters, some light planes and occasionally military planes in formation.

Sometimes we wonder if they are ever likely to crash and conclude that it couldn’t happen. But it has happened, with four young pilots killed when their planes collided and crashed into Sturt and Dodd streets.

The occasion was the Royal Visit of 1927, when the Duke and Duchess of York visited Australia to open the new Parliament House in Canberra. Having arrived at Port Melbourne at the end of April, they were headed to Government House along St Kilda Rd in an open carriage, waving to the thousands who had turned out to see them.

In the sky above, a group of five RAAF planes (wooden De Havilland 9s) was flying above the visitors in arrowhead form. The group had welcomed the royals at Port Melbourne by dipping their wings and then climbing and had repeated the manoeuvre at Government House, before heading south over the royal carriage as it turned into the grounds of Government House.

They had swooped down and were beginning to climb. But as they flew over the police barracks in St Kilda Rd, they were still very low. Then the unthinkable happened as one of the planes suddenly banked steeply and roared upward at such a speed that collision was inevitable, followed by a crash and a shower of splintered woodwork as the young pilot misjudged and flew into the plane above.

Horrified onlookers fainted and screamed as the planes disappeared in a cloud of smoke and then plummeted into buildings and streets below. The first plane crashed in Dodds St, near where the Vault sculpture is today, whilst the second plane burst into flames in the sky then nose-dived into the large motor depot and garage of the General Post Office in Sturt St, causing much destruction and mayhem amongst postal workers and their horses.

Luckily there were no civilians killed. Each plane carried two young pilots, all killed instantly.

Having seen the collision, the duke was visibly upset and distressed. RAAF officials stated that the pilots had not been “stunting” at the time and that the planes were all in airworthy condition.

An inquiry concluded that it was pilot error. Nevertheless, it was a dreadful day for the people of Southbank – thankfully one that has never been repeated.

 

Robin Grow - President

Australian Art Deco and Modernism Society

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