All Was Not Well But Ended Well

By Sqn Ldr E.G. (Ted) Ferguson, Retired

The following story is written by our past Sub Branch member, Ted Ferguson, who is now flying with angels. Ted wrote this just before he became very sick and it is now with fondness that we publish the last of his memories. We will remember him.

In 1954 I was based at RAAF GARBUTT in Townsville, Queensland as an aircrew member of 10MR-Maritime Reconnaissance Squadron flying “long nose” Lincoln aircraft. These aircraft were originally large twin-tailed 4 engine bombers, Lancaster MK4. They were specially adapted for maritime use by removal of the blunt nose and in its place a long nose was fitted to house specialist equipment and renamed Long Nose Lincoln. Included in the nose cone were two large desecration windows port and starboard to enhance visual search.

Each month one crew with aircraft was deployed to RAAF DARWIN on a rotation basis to serve as Air-Sea Rescue for that reason. For this purpose, our crew departed TVL on 14 July 1954 at 1345 hours in Lincoln A73-59 and arrived DN 7 hours later. We completed a NAVEX on route, i.e. the aircraft set course from the top of GARBUTT and navigation was by dead reckoning (DB), astro sextant and high-frequency radio bearings.

On 18th July, Governor General Sir William Slim who was on a VIP tour of Australia arrived in DN aboard a C47 Dakota aircraft. It was arranged for him to board HMAS CONDAMINE on 19th July to witness first hand a Naval / Air co-op exercise with our Lincoln crew. The exercise was one of perfect co-operation and expertise. That evening Sir William told us how much he had enjoyed the exercise and congratulated both Air Force and Navy crews on our professionalism.

On 20th July Sir William departed DN on his VIP Dakota bound for Alice Springs.

On 21st July the Dakota Flight engineer discovered the aircraft battery was U/S. Big “flop” immediately and an SOS message priority AOG (aircraft on ground) was sent to DN asking for a replacement battery. Our Lincoln crew with precious replacement battery departed DN at 1400 hours and arrived in Alice Springs at 1810 hours. We decided to RON (remain overnight) – Alice Springs and spent a quiet evening relaxing as guests of the American officers and their ladies who were from a nearby ‘secret base’.

22nd July dawned a beautiful day and after usual crew briefing i.e. weather, height at which we must fly, radio frequencies etc. and daily inspection of our Lincoln completed, we were airborne at 0730 hours, ETA Darwin 1200 hours. There was not a cloud in the sky and for once the crew could also relax without NAVEX or MAREX to perform. Lincolns were very noisy aircraft. In fact, the noise exceeded the range of accepted decibels. Exhaust covers had been removed from the engines to minimise engine heating. So we strapped ourselves securely in our stations, headphones and oxygen masks firmly in place. The microphone was an integral part of the oxygen mask. Our crew always practiced strict discipline whilst airborne, (N.B. Even now on civil aircraft flights I still keep my seat belt on just loosely, its inbred discipline.) I chose to sit in the Long Nose operating radar equipment and studying sonobuoy material. The Rolls Royce Merlin engines, although noisy, purred beautifully, in my opinion, the Merlin was the finest engine in the service, think Lancaster, Spitfire, Mosquito, York and Mustang to name a few.

1200 hours Darwin appeared below, the usual circuit was made, undercarriage down selected, cockpit drill was completed, flap adjustments made, the approach was flawless, touch-down, order ‘cut engines’ but No. 1 refused to obey. Old A73-59 slewed off the runway to starboard at speed, over the large monsoon dam and a perimeter taxi track, and into the “boondocks” none too smoothly. There was a continuous crunch of grinding metal and explosions as undercarriage wheels snapped off and propellers biting the ground throwing up great clouds of red dust. She finally came to rest facing the opposite direction and a broken back. It had been one hell of a ride. The noise stopped, a shout came ‘Everybody out!’ I slid open the port observation window as my means of escape and miraculously it operated. I banged the release buckle of my safety harness open, but my left foot was jammed somehow. Smoke was coming from the port engine, what a way to go! I made a super effort (who wouldn’t, given the circumstances) and my foot released. I was through that window like a rat up a drain pipe and stumbled through the kunai grass and over rocks to join the rest of the crew behind a large rock. A quick count we were all out hopefully uninjured. But my left foot was hurting. I looked down and it was bleeding. I saw that I had ripped off the side of my shoe.

The airport fire crew (RAAF) was on the ball and arrived quickly to spray foam over the engines. Oddly enough old A73-59, although a write off looked not too bad. The mid-upper appeared to have been very lucky because the fuselage had split apart quite near his station.

We were all rushed to SSQ – Station Sick Quarters – by ambulance for investigation and treatment as necessary but we just wanted out to celebrate our good fortune with a few cold ones. That evening our CO and a crew arrived from TVL and we enjoyed ourselves in the Officers Mess. Next day we had to undergo a full medical and be assessed by a “shrink” who was more frightening than the prang; he did have very unsettling methods looking through his thick black horn-rimmed glasses.

Unfortunately, all was not as well as we thought and injuries started to manifest themselves. A few months later my coveted aircrew medical category of A1G1 was downgraded A3G3. Department of Air transferred me to Equipment Branch, granted me a higher rank and a permanent Commission, one can be so lucky.

I was posted back to DARWIN in 1959 and left in December 1962. The shell of A73-59 was still there used for fire drills.

In those early days, one could claim for and receive replacement material or cash equivalent for items damaged in Service, personal items, that is. I claimed a new pair of shoes which took 13 months for the civilian purse holders – Area Finance Officer – to approve, after many arguments considering the debit side where an aircraft had been written off although many parts were salvaged, I suppose the credit side, a new pair of shoes was small fry, even though a legitimate entitlement and I was not to blame.

The subsequent Court of Inquiry – Aircraft Accidents – commended the crew of A73-59 on their professionalism and crew discipline leading up to and during the prang, and cleared us of any contributing blame; it was just an engine malfunction which could not have been foreseen.