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