The CycLone Tracy Heron


Connair Heron VH-CLT at Alice Springs in July 1973. The following year, this aeroplane was destined to provide communications between cyclone devastated Darwin and the outside world. Photo: Roger McDonald

 

It is widely reported that a Connair Heron survived Cyclone Tracy by being "flown" on the ground at Darwin during the winds on 24 December 1974. The following research was undertaken in an attempt to identify the Heron involved.

On 28 June 2001, the writer spoke to David "Freddo" Fredricksen in Alice Springs. He was the pilot who used a Heron radio to establish first contact with the outside world after Cyclone Tracy. He confirmd that the aeroplane was VH-CLT. He called (as Charlie Lima Tango) to Katherine Flight Service who enquired: "Where are you" to which he replied: "On the ground Darwin". After the cyclone, even the radio at the Navy base was out of action and Mr Fredricksen claimed that there was a "queue" of people waiting to use CLT's radio (Police, Emergency Services etc).

Also on 28 June 2001, the writer spoke to Ian "Nammo" Badman in Darwin and he confirmed that it was VH-CLT which survived Cyclone Tracy. He knew that VH-CLX carried his nickname "Nammo" but he did not know why. He describes the events as follows:

The aircraft was inside a hangar with its tail into the wind as he was unable to turn it into wind. The controls were locked internally and externally. The brakes were set and all three wheels were chocked. The tail was anchored to a tug. There was evidence that the aeroplane had moved during the cyclone. He confirmed that the engines were NOT running, claiming that this story is an "embellishment" of the facts.

On 30 June 2001, the writer spoke to Greg Foot who was an engineer with Airlines of Tasmania. He believed that it was VH-CLX which had survived Cyclone Tracy and that the name "Nammo" was applied to VH-CLX on the instructions of Dave McKenzie (then chief engineer with Airlines of Tasmania) to commemorate the event.

On 2 July 2001, the writer spoke to Dave McKenzie who was aware that "Nammo" had saved a Heron during Cyclone Tracy but he could not recall why the name had been applied to VH-CLX.

On 16 July 2001, Graham Malcolm of the Moorabbin Air Museum confirmed that VH-CLX still carried the name "Nammo".

After being withdrawn from service by Airlines of Tasmania, the fuselage of VH-CLT was taken to the hills west of Woodbury where it was used for several years as a hunting lodge. During this time, it became known as "The Woodbury Bomber". After the construction of a purpose-built hunting lodge, VH-CLT was relegated for use as a storage shed on the same property.


The fuselage of Heron VH-CLT now serves as a storage shed in the hills west of Woodbury, Tasmania. Photo: Gerard Brereton

 

UPDATE - 4 MAY 2017

The following contribution comes from Graham Ham who worked for Connair in Darwin at the time of Cyclone Tracy.

" I was working as Senior Traffic Officer on the night of 24 December 1974 when Connair's Darwin based aircraft, Heron VH-CLS and DC-3s VH-EWE, VH-MIN and VH-PWM, were evacuated to Katherine to avoid damage in view of the impending cyclone. However there were not enough crew members left to evacuate Heron VH-CLT so Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Ian Nammo Badman was instructed to put the aircraft into the only hangar space available. I was tasked along with several aircraft loaders to go to the freight shed over on the Stuart Highway where we loaded a Toyota HiAce van with cartons of beer which we transferred to the rear freight locker of VH-CLT. The normal maximum load for this compartment was 350 kg but we filled it to capacity to weigh the aircraft down. The aeroplane had been secured with its tail into wind as it had not been possible to turn the aircraft around. Even though the aircraft moved around a bit in the hangar it obviously helped to stabilise it and save it from any major damage.

"In regard to the name Nammo on the nose of Heron VH-CLX, to the best of my knowledge this was on the aircraft prior to Cyclone Tracy. I never found out why he had this nickname as he was always addressed by it and few if any referred to or addressed him by his real name Ian. In fact, many never even knew his surname. He was a larger than life character and well liked by all staff and crew members. Sadly he passed away on the 3rd March 2015.

"It is not widely recorded that the crew members who evacuated aircraft to Katherine on the night of 24th Dec 1974 all flew back into Darwin late that night in Heron VH-CLS. However, after three attempts at trying to land in extremely bad wind shear and up-draughts, they could not get the aircraft onto the runway safely and had to abort and return to Katherine for the night leaving their families back in Darwin to weather the impact of the cyclone".


In some embellished retellings of Nammo's "flight" in VH-CLT, it is claimed that he had loaded a supply of beer, the implication being that it was for personal consumption. Thanks to Graham's first-hand account we now know that there was indeed beer on the aeroplane but only as ballast!

 

 

SOURCE

 

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ISSUE
DATE
REMARKS
3
04MAY17
Added an update from Graham Ham.
2
20JUL13
Added images and converted the file from PDF to HTML. Thanks to Gerard Brereton, Ed Coates and Roger McDonald.
1
07APR12
Originally compiled by Ron Cuskelly on 2 June 2009 from notes taken on the dates shown above.