75 Years On : Eskdale Crash
The Eskdale hall was packed, it was picture show night and 20 minutes into Going My Way staring Bing Crosby the roar of an aeroplane overhead sent the audience scurrying outside.
Below a low cloud base and drizzle, an aircraft, its landing and navigation lights clearly visible, was dropping distress flares. Five minutes later a huge explosion towards Mt Tawonga was observed from both Eskdale and the Kiewa Valley. Residents left the hall in despair, anxious for news although those in the know were aware that a Beaufort Bomber was lost somewhere in north-east Victoria.
The aircraft was conducting a navigation exercise from Mt Gambier to East Sale on a winter's night, weeks before the Japanese surrendered in 1945. A mistake soon after takeoff resulted in the torpedo bomber with a crew of four lost, even though ground stations conveyed their correct location to the navigator. The experienced skipper flew low in mountainous terrain seeking a landing place in the dark even though there was enough fuel to go to anyone of numerous airfields with appropriate runway lighting.
This fundamental mistake was to end in tragedy. The Beaufort ploughed into a granite outcrop, near Fleurty's Creek killing all on board. At first light the RAAF organised an intensive aerial search but after three days withdrew, even after the approximate coordinates were given to them by locals.
Distressed relatives of the crew begged the RAAF to continue the search to no avail. The relatives asked the local Eskdale "Dads' Army - Volunteer Defence Corp - to join them in a search. Headed up by Dick Hamilton and deputy Reg Larsen, the search party found the wreckage within a few hours.
The Court of Inquiry did not address the 'how', 'why' and human factors involved in the crash as would routinely be dealt with today and seen on Air Crash Investigation. Life went on and the Eskdale community settled down to celebrate VP Day, some picnicking at the crash site to recover souvenirs. Fifty years later a memorial service was held and wreaths laid by relatives of the crew, RAAF and the local community.
A sad event in the history of our Valley.
[A book on the crash, Going My Way , is available from Eskdale IGA]