The Stinson Rescue.
A couple of weeks ago Jaja joined me on a trip up to O’Reilly’s in the Lamington National Park. You can read about that visit here.
While we were up there we read a story on a monument about a rescue that took place in 1937 not far from the Guest House and I thought I’d share it with you.
On 19 February, 1937, a Stinson Model A aircraft, VH-UHH Brisbane, was reported missing while en-route from Archerfield Airport in Brisbane QLD to Mascot Airport in Sydney NSW. The Aircraft was to set down at Lismore, NSW to pick up an additional four (4) passengers, but never made it that far.
There were 7 passengers and crew aboard the Stinson:
- Wool Broker, Joseph Robert Binstead of Manly (Sydney) NSW
- Mining Engineer, John Seymour Proud of Wahroonga (Sydney) NSW
- 41-year-old Architect, William Walden Fountain of Hamilton (Brisbane) QLD (William was originally from New Jersey, New York USA and had been living in Australia for 12 months)
- 55-year-old Managing Director, James Ronald Nairne Graham of Hunters Hill (Sydney) NSW
- 25-year-old Insurance Underwriter, William (James) Guthrie Westray of Kensington (London), England
- 25-year-old Commercial Pilot, Beverly George Merivale Shepherd of (Sydney) NSW
- 41-year-old Commercial Pilot, Reginald Haslem Boyden of Randwick (Sydney) NSW
The flight left Archerfield at 13:05 on a cloudy afternoon. About 25 minutes into the flight one of the passengers, a large man named Joseph Binstead, noticed the weather had turned bad and during the Coroner’s inquest described the weather conditions as “a fairly severe rainstorm or squall.”
Binstead went on to describe his concern that the aircraft was “very close to the top of the trees”. Shortly afterwards the aircraft dipped it’s right wing slightly and there was a crash.
Binstead thought that the tail section had been knocked off and a few seconds later there was a second crash, this resulted in the right wing being knocked off and the Stinson hit the ground. At this point Binstead lost consciousness.
When he awoke, the Stinson was on fire. He had spotted another passenger, John Proud, trying to crawl through a window. It was at this point Binstead discovered that Proud had a broken leg and they assisted each other out of the aircraft.
Shortly after, both Binstead and Proud assisted another passenger out, William Westray. Together they made their way some 9m (30 feet) away from the aircraft where they sat and watched the aircraft burn. It was now 13:45.
Prior to moving to a safe location away from crash site, Proud reported hearing groans coming from within the aircraft when he peered in through the window they had escaped through. Unfortunately, the flames were such that there was no chance to get the remaining passengers and crew out and the remaining passengers and crew perished in the fire on board the Stinson.
The next morning Westray took it upon himself to head towards what was thought to be a farm, with the understanding that he was to call out periodically. Binstead and Proud heard three (3) calls and then nothing.
Beranard O’Reilly, a grazier who resided in the Lamington National Park, learned of the missing Stinson on the morning of February 20 at about 09:00, the day after the aircraft went missing.
Over the next four (4) days, O’Reilly had been hearing reorts that the Stinson had been spotted some 500 km (300 miles) south at Taree NSW and even as far south as the Hawkesbury District just north of Sydney.
During that time O’Reilly had cause to got to the township of Kerry some 13km (8 miles) from his home, where he spoke to locals and later on February 26 to his brother about sightings of the Stinson flying over the Kerry township.
That same afternoon O’Reilly read a newspaper report that an Air Force plane had been cruising over the Hawkesbury District on the day of the disappearance and that this may have contributed to reports that the Stinson was seen or heard over the area.
With all this information, O’Reilly formed the opinion that the Stinson may not have cleared the McPherson Range at all and may have been lost in the McPherson Range to the west of his home.
Sometime between 12:00 and 14:00 on February 27 1937, O’Reilly set out, alone, through dense rain-forest with four (4) days rations to look for the Stinson. He roughly followed the NSW border west and covered about 13 km (8 miles) on the first day.
By 8:00 the following morning O’Reilly had reached Mt. Throakban. It was there that he spotted some discolouration on the range about 13 km (8 miles) away. O’Reilly set out in the general direction of the discolouration, eventually coming to a spur.
It was here that he heard two faint “Coo-ee” calls. Even though he thought the “Coo-ee” was from another search party, he continued towards the calls, eventually crossing a gorge and climbing to the top of Point Lookout.
At this point he called “Coo-ee” and received a response from about 180m (200 yards) away. O’Reilly continued calling as he walked towards the replies where he saw that a large tree had been cut off about 6m (20 feet) up and another had been scorched by fire.
O’Reilly had found the only two (2) survivors from the plane crash, John Proud and Joseph Binstead, still alive after 10 days. They were suffering from exposure and, according to O’Reilly, were very near death.
O’Reilly offered them bread and butter and made some billy tea before promising to return the following morning with help. It was now February 28.
On his way to get help, O’Reilly found Westray at Christmas Creek near the Lamington Plateau. He had fallen over a cliff and died of internal injuries and exposure.
True to his word, O’Reilly returned with a rescue party and a doctor. Local farmers had to cut a 16km (10 mile) track through the rain-forest of the Lamington Plateau to get to the two (2) survivors so they could be carried out.
Those that did not survive the wreck, William Fountain, James Graham, Beverly Shepherd and Reginald Boyden, are buried in a common grave at the crash site, while William Westray is buried beside Christmas Creek where he was found by O’Reilly on route to the same farm Westray was heading towards.
Even though I’d heard about this story before, it wasn’t until I read the inquest file that I really appreciated what transpired and how difficult it must have been to get to the two (2) survivors.
If you’re keen, you can read more about this story at the Queensland State Archives. Everything from witness accounts right through to the Coroner’s statement of closure of inquest.
They certainly were a tough breed back then, that’s for sure.
- Coo-ee: Chiefly Australian: A cry to attract attention or give warning. — within coo-ee. : within hailing distance.