THE LOSS OF FIREFLY WD869 

Compiled by Jose Cordoba


Near Foxground NSW, within a few kilometers of each other are the remains of several aircraft. This one is the wreckage of RAN Firefly WD869. 

WD869 was first accepted for service with the Royal Navy, and from 1951 to 1953, was embarked on the light fleet carrier HMS Triumph.
On the 21st of January 1953, she was delivered to the King George V Docks in Glasgow Scotland, to be embarked aboard HMAS Vengeance following purchase by the Royal Australian Navy.

In March 1953, after arriving in Australia, WD869 was off loaded to RANAS Schofields, and later allocated to 851 Squadron were she was known to have served aboard HMAS Sydney.   For most of her career however, Fairey Firefly WD869 was used at HMAS Albatross (Naval Air Station Nowra) for observer training.

On the night of 19 March 1957, SBLT Warren Browne, 22, and 18 year old Midshipman Ian Caird, both of 851 Squadron left Albatross on a navigation exercise.

Near Foxground NSW, within a few kilometers of each other are the remains of several aircraft. This one is the wreckage of RAN Firefly WD869.

WD869 was first accepted for service with the Royal Navy, and from 1951 to 1953, was embarked on the light fleet carrier HMS Triumph.
On the 21st of January 1953, she was delivered to the King George V Docks in Glasgow Scotland, to be embarked aboard HMAS Vengeance following purchase by the Royal Australian Navy.

In March 1953, after arriving in Australia, WD869 was off loaded to RANAS Schofields, and later allocated to 851 Squadron were she was known to have served aboard HMAS Sydney. For most of her career however, Fairey Firefly WD869 was used at HMAS Albatross (Naval Air Station Nowra) for observer training.

On the night of 19 March 1957, SBLT Warren Browne, 22, and 18 year old Midshipman Ian Caird, both of 851 Squadron left Albatross on a navigation exercise. *


WD869 was an AS6 series Firefly and would have looked very similar to her sister WD915 shown above.

At 9:28, on the return leg of their journey, they crashed near the top of the mountains surrounding the valley of Foxground.   Several Foxground residents witnessed the crash and they all said that they had seen the aircraft flying very low before it crashed, exploding on impact.   One of these residents immediately contacted Police Sergeant L. Daley from Berry who took his Jeep and six other Foxground residents up as far as it was possible to drive.
A Vary light was seen to rise shortly after the crash and there was a faint hope that someone may have survived.    It was later determined that the cartridge had been ignited by the intense heat from the burning fuselage.
After leaving the Jeep, Sgt Daley and his team battled their way up the mountain in the extremely thick bush for an hour and a half, trying to reach anyone that might have survived.

WD869 was an AS6 series Firefly and would have looked very similar to her sister WD915 shown above.

At 9:28, on the return leg of their journey, they crashed near the top of the mountains surrounding the valley of Foxground. Several Foxground residents witnessed the crash and they all said that they had seen the aircraft flying very low before it crashed, exploding on impact. One of these residents immediately contacted Police Sergeant L. Daley from Berry who took his Jeep and six other Foxground residents up as far as it was possible to drive.
A Vary light was seen to rise shortly after the crash and there was a faint hope that someone may have survived. It was later determined that the cartridge had been ignited by the intense heat from the burning fuselage.
After leaving the Jeep, Sgt Daley and his team battled their way up the mountain in the extremely thick bush for an hour and a half, trying to reach anyone that might have survived.


When they finally reached the still burning wreckage they realized that it was too late to render any assistance to the unfortunate crew.    Some twenty minutes later, the Navy rescue team arrived, having climbed the hills from Broughton Village.    It was a weary and solemn group that gathered together as a Naval Officer said a prayer for the souls of his two young comrades.

With very little evidence to go on the accident investigation concluded that the crew had become lost.   Being displaced some 20 miles north of track and mistaking the lighthouse at Kiama for that at Point Perpendicular on Beecroft Head, they had descended below lowest safe altitude in the belief that they were on track back to Albatross.

When they finally reached the still burning wreckage they realized that it was too late to render any assistance to the unfortunate crew. Some twenty minutes later, the Navy rescue team arrived, having climbed the hills from Broughton Village. It was a weary and solemn group that gathered together as a Naval Officer said a prayer for the souls of his two young comrades.

With very little evidence to go on the accident investigation concluded that the crew had become lost. Being displaced some 20 miles north of track and mistaking the lighthouse at Kiama for that at Point Perpendicular on Beecroft Head, they had descended below lowest safe altitude in the belief that they were on track back to Albatross.


Both Grahame and I have been to the crash site of this aircraft, and it is a very difficult location to get to.   It is in the densest bush I have ever seen.    It takes a significant level of fitness to walk and climb to the site and should not be attempted by the inexperienced bushwalker.

Both Grahame and I have been to the crash site of this aircraft, and it is a very difficult location to get to. It is in the densest bush I have ever seen. It takes a significant level of fitness to walk and climb to the site and should not be attempted by the inexperienced bushwalker.


A flat portion of the route in … it gets worse from here.   I have nothing but respect for the rescue teams that did the walk at night and with a pressing urgency.

Once you do get to the site, photography is difficult.   If you move just a few feet from what you intend to photograph, it becomes quickly obscured by bush.     Although much of the aircraft remains, it is spread out over a large area and trying to locate it takes quite a lot of searching in this very thick bushland.

A flat portion of the route in … it gets worse from here. I have nothing but respect for the rescue teams that did the walk at night and with a pressing urgency.

Once you do get to the site, photography is difficult. If you move just a few feet from what you intend to photograph, it becomes quickly obscured by bush. Although much of the aircraft remains, it is spread out over a large area and trying to locate it takes quite a lot of searching in this very thick bushland.



The impact point, marked by a mass of molten glass and aluminum debris, is a mere 20 feet below this point at the top of the mountain.

I am very grateful to Bob -Windy- Geale for his invaluable assistance in providing quality information and sharing his considerable knowledge of Naval Air Operations.

Note by Grahame:   This crash site was rediscovered by Leut Ken Alderman and I in January 1975 when we were searching for a Mitchell rumored to have forced landed on a plateau in the area.   After Ken landed the chopper on the ridge above the crash site, we and our crewmen scrambled down the steep slope to the wreckage.

The impact point, marked by a mass of molten glass and aluminum debris, is a mere 20 feet below this point at the top of the mountain.

I am very grateful to Bob -Windy- Geale for his invaluable assistance in providing quality information and sharing his considerable knowledge of Naval Air Operations.

Note by Grahame: This crash site was rediscovered by Leut Ken Alderman and I in January 1975 when we were searching for a Mitchell rumored to have forced landed on a plateau in the area. After Ken landed the chopper on the ridge above the crash site, we and our crewmen scrambled down the steep slope to the wreckage.



From the state of the debris we deduced that the impact forces had been extraordinary.

From the state of the debris we deduced that the impact forces had been extraordinary.



The Griffin had been reduced to components.

I absolutely agree with Jose, although we took the easy way in (by helicopter), this is very thick and difficult terrain and a decision to walk in should not be made lightly.

The Griffin had been reduced to components.

I absolutely agree with Jose, although we took the easy way in (by helicopter), this is very thick and difficult terrain and a decision to walk in should not be made lightly.


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