DISASTERS AND MISHAPS – AIR LOSSES
Pre-war and Wartime Accidents
Air losses in New Zealand have followed the general pattern of those of most countries in the apprentice days of aviation, but major disasters on regular passenger-service routes have been mercifully few in the three to four decades since the establishment of this form of inland communication. Only three large airliners have been lost, but in each case the casualty rate was 100 per cent. Smaller craft have a less enviable record and the fate of some is still unknown. There is the case of Moncrieff and Hood, whose aeroplane, heard over the North Island at the end of a pioneering flight across the Tasman Sea in January 1928, has never been discovered. Then also, aerial topdressing, a recent New Zealand development for the improvement of pastoral high country, is unfortunately accompanied by a loss of life and machines.
Wartime air accidents, especially those concerned with training, were not infrequent, but at the time, from considerations of security, there was little public knowledge of some distressing occurrences. For instance, on 9 June 1942, the explosive crash of an American Flying Fortress, shortly after taking off from Whenuapai at midnight, awoke half the sleeping population of suburban Auckland, but it was over a year before an official announcement was made to the effect that that night 11 visiting airmen had lost their lives. Similarly, when a Liberator bomber a year later came to grief on the fringe of the same airfield, the public were not told until many months later that 14 out of a total complement of 16 airmen had been killed. On 21 August 1944 two of a flight of seven Lockheed Hudson bombers of the reconnaissance section of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, with 14 men on board, were lost off the coast of New Zealand on a service flight from Fiji to Auckland. They disappeared when they protectively broke formation in thick weather and were never seen again.
The first civilian casualty list associated with regular passenger air services occurred on 7 May 1942 when a Wellington-Nelson aircraft with a crew of two and three passengers struck a rock face 5,000 ft up on Mt. Richmond in the Nelson district in murky weather. The plane was found burnt out. There were no survivors. And then later in the same year, on 21 December 1942, an Air Travel Ltd. De Havilland Dragonfly, bound for Nelson from Westport, plunged into the sea. The pilot was rescued by a passing collier, but the four passengers were drowned.