THE LOSS OF WIRRAWAY A20-212 

The same location, at the same time of day, with similar surf, taken on 30 Jan 2004 from what I suspect was the same sand dune vantage point.
 
Despite suggestions to the contrary, the newspapers state categorically, in the parlance of the time, that the aircraft quote - was not stunting, a fact endorsed by the accident investigation.   Indeed the wing span of the Wirraway is 43 feet, so for a wing tip to dig in while manoeuvring they must have been below a spectacular 21.5 feet.    Additionally, to identify a shark from the rear cockpit at that level, travelling at something in the order of 115 knots, would have been, .. shall we say, ... challenging, so hopefully the official version which describes a descent from 500ft to 150 ft was more accurate. 

In the course of the investigation, a witness came forward to assure the court that the port wing of the aircraft had struck the waterline north of the lookout tower and even produced wreckage that he had recovered from that location to justify his observation.   Indeed the wreckage that he produced was identified as coming from a wing tip and included a sealing strip from between the wing and aileron.   Could he have been correct, that the port wing struck first and all the other witnesses be in error?   Notice in the picture above, of the wing on the beach, that the port wing, aileron and wingtip are damaged but intact.

The same location, at the same time of day, with similar surf, taken on 30 Jan 2004 from what I suspect was the same sand dune vantage point.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, the newspapers state categorically, in the parlance of the time, that the aircraft quote - was not stunting, a fact endorsed by the accident investigation. Indeed the wing span of the Wirraway is 43 feet, so for a wing tip to dig in while manoeuvring they must have been below a spectacular 21.5 feet. Additionally, to identify a shark from the rear cockpit at that level, travelling at something in the order of 115 knots, would have been, .. shall we say, ... challenging, so hopefully the official version which describes a descent from 500ft to 150 ft was more accurate.

In the course of the investigation, a witness came forward to assure the court that the port wing of the aircraft had struck the waterline north of the lookout tower and even produced wreckage that he had recovered from that location to justify his observation. Indeed the wreckage that he produced was identified as coming from a wing tip and included a sealing strip from between the wing and aileron. Could he have been correct, that the port wing struck first and all the other witnesses be in error? Notice in the picture above, of the wing on the beach, that the port wing, aileron and wingtip are damaged but intact.


Note also in the foreground of this picture, the remains of the starboard outer wing, essentially destroyed.   The wreckage found by our witness was from this wing, thrown by impact forces into the water a few meters north of the lookout tower.   Clearly all evidence, albeit presented in good faith, requires corroboration.   It seems to be a human trait that the more horrific the occurrence and the longer the period for reflection, the more wayward the recollection.

The pilot of A20-212 had over 2800 hours flying time of which 1226 were on type.   He was an A2 instructor and a very reliable, competent, highly regarded pilot.    For this accident to happen to such a capable individual is indicative of how unsuited higher performance service aircraft were to conduct the task of Shark Spotting.   Although the inquiry found that the pilot had committed an error of judgement, he certainly was not culpable.   While one may argue that the sortie should never have been tasked in the first place, from the operational aspect, this was an accident in the true sense of the word.   This lesson was not lost on the military authorities and Mr Faddens shark patrols were short lived, commencing on Christmas day and being sensibly terminated by the RAAF on the evening of the accident.      A statement was made that the risk to - the populous - from low flying aircraft was greater than the risk of shark attack.   I trust that this statement did not jeopardise the Officers career.

Note also in the foreground of this picture, the remains of the starboard outer wing, essentially destroyed. The wreckage found by our witness was from this wing, thrown by impact forces into the water a few meters north of the lookout tower. Clearly all evidence, albeit presented in good faith, requires corroboration. It seems to be a human trait that the more horrific the occurrence and the longer the period for reflection, the more wayward the recollection.

The pilot of A20-212 had over 2800 hours flying time of which 1226 were on type. He was an A2 instructor and a very reliable, competent, highly regarded pilot. For this accident to happen to such a capable individual is indicative of how unsuited higher performance service aircraft were to conduct the task of Shark Spotting. Although the inquiry found that the pilot had committed an error of judgement, he certainly was not culpable. While one may argue that the sortie should never have been tasked in the first place, from the operational aspect, this was an accident in the true sense of the word. This lesson was not lost on the military authorities and Mr Faddens shark patrols were short lived, commencing on Christmas day and being sensibly terminated by the RAAF on the evening of the accident. A statement was made that the risk to - the populous - from low flying aircraft was greater than the risk of shark attack. I trust that this statement did not jeopardise the Officers career.


Although the pilot had serious leg injuries, both crew survived, an endorsement of the rugged construction of the Wirraway.   Alas, tragically 3 children were killed and 14 other people injured.

Although the pilot had serious leg injuries, both crew survived, an endorsement of the rugged construction of the Wirraway. Alas, tragically 3 children were killed and 14 other people injured.


This gravestone in a peaceful corner of the old Nambour Cemetery is a sad and poignant reminder of that dreadful day in 1950.

Although aircraft do still crash on beaches now and then, thankfully the shark patrol rules have become safer over the years so nowadays, even on a rare Sunshine Coast bleak day;

This gravestone in a peaceful corner of the old Nambour Cemetery is a sad and poignant reminder of that dreadful day in 1950.

Although aircraft do still crash on beaches now and then, thankfully the shark patrol rules have become safer over the years so nowadays, even on a rare Sunshine Coast bleak day;


only the Kite Surfers are flying below 500ft. 

This Crash Site is easy to get to, being immediately south of that great watering hole, the famous Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club.

only the Kite Surfers are flying below 500ft.

This Crash Site is easy to get to, being immediately south of that great watering hole, the famous Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club.



But dont visit just for the sake of the history or even for a superb meal and a cold beer; there are many great reasons for being on Maroochydore Beach..

But dont visit just for the sake of the history or even for a superb meal and a cold beer; there are many great reasons for being on Maroochydore Beach..


In researching this article I am indebted to the Australian National Archives for the black and white photos of the wreckage and newspaper cutting. I am also indebted to the outstanding Maroochydore Surf Lifesavers.

In researching this article I am indebted to the Australian National Archives for the black and white photos of the wreckage and newspaper cutting. I am also indebted to the outstanding Maroochydore Surf Lifesavers.

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