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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 163347
Last updated: 12 November 2019
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Date:21-JAN-1929
Time:
Type:Silhouette image of generic DH60 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
de Havilland DH.60X Moth
Owner/operator:3 Sqn RAAF
Registration: A7-8
C/n / msn: 541
Fatalities:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:1
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Cornwallis, NSW -   Australia
Phase: Landing
Nature:Military
Departure airport:RAAF Richmond, NSW
Destination airport:Cornwallis, NSW
Narrative:
DH.60X [Cirrus II] sold to DH Australia with CofA 1374 issued 18.4.28. To RAAF as A7-8 21.9.28. To 3 Squadron, RAAF and delivered to Richmond 3.1.29.

Written off (damaged beyond repair) when force Landed 21.2.29 at Richmond, NSW, after striking a farmer during low level flight. The Pilot, Sgt Robert F Somerville flew too low, and struck his future father-in-law Mr Arthur Charles Smith and killed him. Sgt Sommerville was charged with Manslaughter but was acquitted, and was reduced in rank and grounded. Later he regained flying status.

Per a contemporary report from The Richmond and Windsor Gazette, Friday January 25th, 1929:

"TRAGIC 'PLANE CRASH AT CORNWALLIS.
WELL-KNOWN HAWKESBURY FARMER KILLED.
PILOT AND MECHANIC DRAGGED FROM BURNING WRECKAGE.

DEATH came suddenly from the sky in awful form on Monday to Mr. Albert Charles Smith (51), a well-known Hawkesbury farmer, who was killed instantly when an aeroplane dived on top of him while he was chipping weeds on his cultivation at Cornwallis, a few miles from Windsor.

WHEN the 'plane struck the unfortunate man, it smashed the handle of the hoe he was using, dragged him about 15 yards, and bounced another 10 yards before it came to rest. The deceased's son, James Smith, who was working on a tractor nearby, witnessed the awful tragedy, though he did not actually see the 'plane strike his father.

SHORTLY after the machine struck the ground it burst into flames, and was destroyed. The pilot, Sergeant Robert F. Somerville (26), of the Royal Australian Air Force, Richmond, and the mechanic, Leslie Milgate (24), were rescued from the 'plane by workmen on Mr. Smith's property. They are now lying in Richmond Hospital, but their condition is not serious, although it is reported that they were so deeply shocked that they are suffering from partial loss of memory.

EARLY on Monday morning Mr. Smith, who lived with his wife and family in a pretty bungalow cottage on The Terrace, Windsor, accompanied by his son James, left home for his fruit and vegetable farm at Cornwallis. On his arrival at the farmhouse he decided to hoe a new cauliflower bed. Meanwhile his son prepared the ground practically alongside him with a tractor. At the same time a De Havilland Moth 'plane, which had been in use for only four months, left the Richmond aerodrome. It was piloted by Sergeant Somerville, who had with him Leslie Milgate, a mechanic. When the 'plane ascended from the 'drome the engine was in perfect running order, and as it advanced towards Cornwallis the gradually increasing roar attracted the attention of the farm workers.

As it hovered over Mr. Smith's farm, Sergeant Somerville, who was a friend of the deceased's family, waved from the cockpit of the machine. Mr. Smith immediately took off his hat and waved it in return. The 'plane then circled around the farm, the airmen acknowledging the signals of the men below. The third time the machine circled the ground, and when at an altitude of about 150 feet, it suddenly dived. Mr. Smith apparently did not realise that the pilot had lost control, and consequently made no attempt to leave his position. He leaned back on his hoe and watched the oncoming machine, realising his mistake when it was too late. With a terrific roar the 'plane swooped upon him. He jumped back, but as he did the whirring propeller struck his head, decapitating him. The under-carriage caught his body and carried it a distance of about 15 yards, inflicting further shocking injuries.

AEROPLANE AFIRE. The aeroplane turned over on its side when it struck the ground and it appeared that the airmen were stunned and helpless in the cockpit. Dense volumes of smoke poured from the undercarriage, and were followed by leaping flames. Mr: James Smith, who did not see the aeroplane actually strike his father, ran to the machine and assisted by Mr. Herb Woods, of Newtown, Windsor, dragged Somerville from the wreckage. Milgate was also rescued from the burning wreck. He was bleeding profusely from many wounds on his head and face caused by flying fragments, and he was suffering from intense shock. 'Where's father?' James Smith asked when the two airmen were safe. He had last seen his father bending over the long, straight furrows of the cauliflower bed he was hoeing, and even then did not realise that his father had been struck by the crashing aeroplane.

On the other side of the burning machine, about three yards from the fuselage, was the terribly injured body of Mr. Albert Smith. Overcome by the sight, Mr. Smith jnr. collapsed, and when Somerville realised the awful result of the accident he sobbed bitterly. Several people working on the farms nearby had seen the 'plane dive towards the ground, and they rushed to the scene. The police and ambulance were immediately summoned.

CAN'T REMEMBER ANYTHING. Although dazed and stunned by his terrible experience, Sergeant Somerville went to Mr. Smith's residence in Windsor, and from there he was taken to Windsor Hospital and admitted by Dr. Arnold. Milgate's wounds were treated at a farmhouse, and he, too, was conveyed to the Windsor Hospital. The two men were subsequently taken to Richmond Hospital, and instructions were issued that they were not to be disturbed. Dr. Steele, of Richmond, the medical officer attached to the Richmond aerodrome, declared that after admitting and treating the two men in the Richmond Hospital, he asked them how the tragedy occurred. 'I don't remember anything,' both airmen replied. Dr. Steele stated on Tuesday that the two men were in 'a very shocked condition,' and they would not be in a fit state to be interviewed for a few days. In his statement to the police, Mr. James Smith said that he was working the tractor some seventy yards away from his father when the machine crashed. He had previously recognised Somerville waving from the 'plane. It circled over their heads three times. “The third time,” he said, "when the aeroplane was about 150 feet in the air above us, and about 200 yards, away, it appeared to crumple up, and swoop towards us. The pilot did not regain control, and it crashed to the ground.”

CAPABLE PILOT. SERGEANT SOMERVILLE, the pilot of the plane that caused Monday's shocking tragedy, is regarded as a most capable flier by R.A.A.F. officers. Twenty-six years of age, he graduated with distinction as airman pilot at Point Cook, Victoria, on November 27 last; and, since then, he has flown over 200 hours. Monday's flight was the first he made since returning from annual leave.

DIVE TO EARTH. Mr. A. E. Cordner, who has a farm close by that of the late Mr. Smith, was an eye-witness of the crash. He was about 500 yards away from the scene of the accident, and told the police that he had seen the 'plane flying over Smith's farm at a low altitude. It descended to within ten feet of the ground, and rose to about 150 feet. It then turned back over the same route it had previously come, and all at once it seemed to take a dive to earth. The engine was shut off, and that gave Mr. Cordner the impression that it had failed. He next heard a crash as the aeroplane dived into the loose tilled soil, and he saw a cloud of dust arise. He ran across to the spot, and no sooner had he arrived than the machine burst into flames. Mr. Smith, who was partly decapitated, was lying with his feet within about three yards of the burning 'plane, and bending over him, sobbing piteously; was the pilot of the machine; Robert Somerville.

LOW FLYING. Mr. J. Gardiner, whose farm adjoins Mr. Smith's holding, arrived at the scene of the tragedy a few minutes after the smash. “Dense smoke first arose from the machine.” he said. “Then it burst into flames. It was destroyed in a few minutes.” On many occasions, he declared, he had seen machines from the Richmond aerodrome swooping over the heads of the farmers working in the district, and so he did not pay any attention to Somerville's 'plane when he saw it flying low over Mr. Smith's property. A Royal Australian Air Force waggon was later despatched to dismantle the machine, but when the dismantling crew arrived the engine was practically red-hot. The aluminium pipes had been melted by the intense heat, and the struts and stays had been burnt and twisted. Only one strut had been destroyed. The machine [DH.60X Cirrus Moth, registration A7-8], which was fitted with the slotted-wing device, was the most modern in the aerodrome. It had been in use for only four months, and was valued at £750. One theory advanced at the aerodrome regarding the cause of the fatality was that the machine had encountered an air pocket, which frequently occur at low altitudes on hot days, and the pilot had been unable to regain control.

OFFICIAL INQUIRY. Professor Payne, chairman of the Air Accident Investigation Committee, and Squadron-Leader Harrison, another member of the committee, left Melbourne on Monday night and arrived at the Richmond aerodrome on Tuesday. They will conduct an inquiry into the cause of the accident. Investigation into the possible cause of the crash will be made more difficult because of the fact that the aeroplane has been totally destroyed. All that is left, apart from the engine, is a pile of white ashes."

Sources:

1. http://www.adf-gallery.com.au//2a7.htm
2. http://www.3squadron.org.au/subpages/Tragedy.htm
3. http://www.ab-ix.co.uk/dh60.pdf


Related books:

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
17-Jan-2014 19:05 Dr. John Smith Added
17-Jan-2014 19:06 Dr. John Smith Updated [Narrative]
20-Jan-2014 18:19 Nepa Updated [Operator]
01-Sep-2017 20:24 Dr. John Smith Updated [Source]
14-Nov-2018 14:56 Nepa Updated [Operator, Operator]

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