Friday, June 18, 2010

History: Petersham Plane Crash

The news item of a few days ago of a light plane crashing at Canley Vale near a public school brought to mind the story of anothert plane crash, one in the inner west into  a local school.

On 2 May 1945, during an air test flight, a RAF (UK) Mosquito (similar to the photograph above) disintegrated over Leichhardt and Petersham, killing the two crew members. Falling debris injured two civilians, damaged 18 properties and set fire to 5 houses.

The cause of the disintegration remains unknown although it was suspected that a violent pull out from a power dive, with its associated high 'g' forces may have led to the structural failure of the aircraft. The two crew members tried to eject from the aircraft but they were not high enough for their parachutes to open.

The crew members killed were Flight Lieutenant David Rochford of Oxford, England and LAC Charles Boydell from Mosman F/Lt Rochford's body was found in the playground of Petersham Public School, now the TAFE site in West Street, Petersham, a lovely old building with sandstone walls, slate roofs and dormer windows.  LAC Boydell's body was found on the roof of a railway building about 100 metres away.

Ray Littley, twelve years old and in sixth class at Petersham Primary School at the time of the crash, has recalled the event thus:
We had returned from lunch and were about to have a dictation test when there was a terrific crashing sound outside and over the roof, followed by a ‘white out’ through one side of the tree. We all ran out and were confronted by the two story building that used to be a tuck shop across the road in flames (I believe a fuel tank went through the roof and set the building alight). Then I saw that the crewmember (possibly the pilot) had crashed through the tree branches with a shredded parachute and struck the ground with such force that he left an imprint in the bitumen."

Debris rained down on the school and about the suburb, the two engines smashed into homes almost one mile apart causing damage but no loss of life. We were given a half-day holiday and instructed to get home ASAP. With that I hopped on my bike and toured the suburb and inspected the damage, and naturally being a young boy looked for souvenirs. I am not sure how true it was but one young enterprising lad had a cannon taken off him by the police the next day. I am not sure how he managed to remove, or carry it; perhaps he had a billy cart to help.
Shortly after the crash, Miss Knight, the headmistress, and some of the students planted some silky oak trees in their memory. The trees have since perished.

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