C-130E A97-168 in a later livery at Brisbane in September 1989. (Picture: David Sparks)


I was called at home at midday on 25th December 1974, just as I was sitting down to Christmas lunch. We were airborne from RAAF Base Richmond in C-130E A97-168 at approximately 1500hrs at maximum all up weight. I remember that it was Runway 10 as it was the first time I have looked up at the Windsor Church Tower on the port side! The crew were:

Captain: Bill Fewster (now deceased)
Co-Pilot: Dick Leys
Navigators: Steve Buchholtz and Jim Mullholland USAF (latter subject confirmation)
Load Masters: Noel Wright and Phil Koy
Flight Engineer: Keith Kershaw
Nursing Staff: Priscilla Wilson (subject confirmation) and others.

It was an uneventful flight until we were advised that we were to divert to Mount Isa to rendezvous with a 34 Squadron aircraft (BAC 1-11 A12-125. Ed.) to pick up two passengers. Our passengers turned out to be Major-General Alan Stretton, Director-General of the National Disasters Organisation and Dr. Rex Patterson, Minister for the Northern Territory. (Maj-Gen Stretton's book indicates that they were accompanied by Major Frank Thorogood and an ABC cameraman from Canberra and that the Hercules also brought a full ABC camera crew from Richmond. Ed).

We began to feel the effects of the cyclone somewhere around Katherine as we began our let-down into Darwin. The method of approach was an ARA (Airborne Radar Approach) whereby the navigators used the aircraft radar to locate the runway. Because of the fact that the radar waves are bounced off the runway into the ether the runway appears on the radar screen as a big blank rectangle. We saw the 7 kerosene flares on the left hand side of the runway at about 500 metres. The distance is a guess as rain was blurring vision and is based on the length of time to land from first observation of the flares. We landed firmly due to water on the runway, dead on centre line, and taxied to dispersal. Group Capt Hitchins met the aircraft and escorted the passengers and our Captain to points unknown. The rest of the crew remained to configure the aircraft for the return flight and maintain communications with Airforce Sydney. The link was used by Grp Capt Hitchins on more than one occasion. We had to refuel with engines running and were notified sometime before sun up, that the most seriously injured were to be loaded shortly.

We took off just before dawn and headed for Mascot. I can't remember if it was our original destination or if it was revised enroute. It was an uneventful flight and as a hospital flight we were given priority clearance into Sydney. I checked my watch in the transport home, and we had been on duty for 26 hours. I got home around 6pm on Boxing Day and made calls to friends who had asked me to try and contact their families in Darwin. I slept for a long time.

My next flight to Darwin began in Brisbane on 28th December 1974. (I can't remember how we got to Brisbane but it may have been on a 36 Sqn C-130A). From Brisbane we flew to Amberley in C-130E A97-167 commanded by Dave Harley. (I did not record the other crew names). We flew from Amberley to Darwin where we overnighted. We then took a full load of evacuees to Brisbane but we had to divert to Mount Isa as a patient with a head injury was having problems. We overnighted in Brisbane and on 30th December we operated C-130E A97-177 from Brisbane to Rockhampton to collect a load of tents for Darwin.

The return flight on 31st December carried Maj-Gen Stretton to Melbourne on the completion of his duties in Darwin. We arrived at Melbourne, Tullamarine just before midnight on 31st December. Maj-Gen Stretton was met by Dr Jim Cairns the acting Prime Minister (PM Gough Whitlam was overseas). We returned to Richmond on 1st January 1975.

My next trip was Richmond-Laverton-Darwin-Richmond in A97-177 on 3rd January 1975 but by this time regular airline services to Darwin were resuming.


Keith Kershaw
January 2012


Major-General Alan Bishop Stretton AO CBE, born Melbourne 30 September 1922, passed away at Batemans Bay, NSW on 26 October 2012.




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Added the identity of the 34SQN BAC 1-11 and corrected Dr Patterson's portfolio.