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Based on notes provided by Rob Hornsby
who also supplied the photographs.


A mere speck in the desert
Cessna 310 tip tank points to the Wackett
Lined up for take-off
Commonwealth Police inspect the cowling
(All images on this page are linked to larger versions)

On January 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. Click here 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 board.


Hudson VH-AGE at Maralinga

Hudson VH-AGE photographed at Maralinga in 1964.
Personal recollections supplied by Rob Hornsby.

The Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia
Vol VI No 4, April 1965, p.22


See also The Missing Wackett Vol. 2


If you wish to contribute your experiences, please contact Ron