Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Gone But Never Forgotten The Unexplained Mystery Of Abel Tasman

By Hannah McNamara

Sixty-four years ago on June 10, twenty-nine lives were claimed in one of the region’s most tragic, yet mysterious plane crashes in Australia’s aviation history.

In the lead-up to the 65th anniversary next year, it’s important as a community to remember the history of our regional landmarks and learn about this catastrophe, one that is unheard of for some, but remembered by many.

In 1960, the Fokker Friendship F-27 aircraft named Abel Tasman was set to arrive in Mackay after departing from the Rockhampton Grammar School on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

The plane held four crew members and twenty-five passengers, with nine of those passengers being young students from the Rockhampton school.

It is believed that the local men and women aboard the plane were eager to arrive home in Mackay to visit parents and loved ones for the long weekend, however, in a tragic turn of events, the flight became Ill-fated and they never reached their destination.

Locals, to this day, still discuss the possible theories as to what went wrong on that day in 1960 - a day that was questionable to some and life-changing for others.

While the official cause of the aircraft crash remains an unknown mystery, it is said to have been a gloomy night with air that was filled with thick fog, sparking suggestions that it was merely impossible for the pilot to see what was ahead.

Past news reports suggest that at 8.30pm the aircraft hovered low over the airport runway in an attempt to land before suddenly regaining height over the strip. The plane then circled around Mackay until around 9.30pm before disappearing without a trace.

At 10.10pm an emergency alarm was finally made and at 10.45pm a public announcement was given to the families and awaiting crowd, declaring a loss of contact after receiving information that the radio had apparently failed.

The plane then crashed at Dudgeon Point, southeast of Mackay.

Each year, families of those lost to the tragedy still visit the headstone plaque located at far beach (also known as Illawong) to commemorate their loved ones.

Col Benson from Mackay RSL Sub Branch said that, “About twenty-five years ago, I was down here (at Far Beach) one afternoon when a lad came up and said ‘I helped make that plaque’ and he said that Mackay was in such grief that they needed something for people to focus their grief on.

“The plaque was unveiled about ten days after the crash and it’s believed they did it in their lunch hour.

“And here we see it standing sixty-four years later.”

Col Benson shared heart-breaking, yet touching stories of families who would devotedly visit the place of remembrance even after many years had passed.

An illustration of this was seen when Stewart Douglas Jackson's father would visit the memorial to commemorate his late son every Sunday, a tradition he upheld until his own passing about fifteen years ago.

Audrey Camilleri and Tyra Whales are another example of this, after sixty-four years, they still visit the memorial for their cherished brother, Edgar Dowse.

The two sisters were raised in Mackay and after many years, they still remember the incident like it was yesterday. Each year they bring along flowers and lay it down next to the stone monument in honour of their beloved brother.

Tyra and Audrey said, “It’s nice to have a place where we can commemorate him.”

Audrey Camilleri and Tyra Whales visit their late brother Edgar Dowse every year to commemorate his legacy, following one of Mackay’s most tragic air crashes in regional aviation history. Photo credit: Hannah McNamara

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