LUTANA WRECKED ON MOUNTAIN-TOP All 13 Occupants Killed Instantly SYDNEY, Sept. 5: It is almost certain that the Australian National Airways DC3 airliner Lutana was lost and flying blind in a heavy snowstorm when it crashed on the 4,600ft. Square Peak In the Liverpool Range, 16 miles from Quirindi on Thursday night, killing the ten passengers and crew of three.
There is little doubt that the pilot of the plane was approach ing the range about 150 miles an hour at a time when he be lieved he was flying on a direct Brisbane-Sydney course and approaching an area south of Newcastle. The time of the crash has been tentatively fixed by Civil Aviation Department officials at between 8.15 and 8.27 p.m. Watches found on three of the victims today had stopped at those times-two at the former. Three minutes before 8.15 on Thursday the pilot had answered Mascot control by radio and about 18 minutes earlier had reported that he was just south of the Williamtown R.A.A.F. station in the New castle district. The widely-scattered and burnt wreckage of the Lutana, which had been missing for 40 hours, was sighted by mere
chance shortly after midday yesterday by the pilot of an East-West Airlines passenger plane flying from Tamworth to Sydney. Discovery of the wreckage in the Liverpool Range, and so far inland from the usual coast route taken on the run between Sydney and Brisbane, caused great surprise in aviation circles. Until early yesterday it had been generally accepted that the plane had been lost in the ocean two or three miles off the coast about 40 miles north of Sydney. Ground parties assembled in four centres by police, civil aviation and airways officials pushed through the dense mountain country for hours late yesterday. Some of the rescuers reached the plane after nightfall and camped alongside for the night. Others spent the night half-way up the mountain and went on before dawn today.
Bodies Thrown In Heap
The first party to reach the plane last night found the 13 bodies huddled together in the nose of the plane. Passengers and crew had apparently all been hurled there by the terrific first impact on the hillside and had probably been killed in stantly. The fact that they were all together in a heap made this practically certain. But for a "hunch" of Capt. J. C. Paterson, of Rydalmere, a pilot with East-West Airlines, the Lutana may have remained undiscovered, to be eventually written off as another mystery like that of the Southern Cloud. Cart. Paterson and a co-pilot believed, despite apparently authentic reports which indi cated that the Lutana was last reported over the sea on Thurs day night, that its pilot, Capt. Drummond, may have been trying to evade the night's bad
weather and have taken a course west from the coast route and crashed into either the Barrington or Liverpool ranges. Shortly before midday yester day the sun appeared over the Liverpool Ranges for the first time for two days. Capt. Pater son, setting out for Sydney from Tamworth on a commer cial flight, decided to deviate from his charted course and make a detour close to Square Peak. His aircraft had been in the air only a few minutes when through a break in the thick trees on the mountainside he saw the sun reflecting from a piece of fuselage. After satisfy ing himself that the object was plane wreckage he flashed a radio message to Kempsey aeradio station. The news was relayed to Mascot and the R.A.A.F. within a few minutes.
Tree-Tops Snapped Off
From the air, observers could see where the crashing plane had snapped off the tops of many big trees. It was certain that if the pilot had had an extra 100ft. altitude he would, have at least cleared the peak of the mountain. First thoughts of observers on the planes which flew over the wreckage were to look closely for signs of life. All the ob
serving planes reported to Syd ney that the nature of the wreckage and the fact that some of it had caught alight made it practically certain that there were no survivors. The mark which clinched the iden tification was "NK" seen on one section of the plane which had not been destroyed. The Lutana's registration letters were VH-ANK.
Two hours after the identifica tion of the wreckage had been established the first rescue party was on the way to the ridge from Quirindi. It was followed by parties from Nundle, Tam worth and other centres. Capt. P. G. Taylor, superintendent of A.N.A., who had previously flown over the wreckage, was a member of one Tamworth party. Ambulances with essen tial equipment were sent to a spot six miles from the scene of the crash, which was the near est point to which road parties could approach. When dawn broke a remark able scene of tragedy and ruin was revealed. Tracing the plane's path, the ground parties discovered where it had first struck the trees close to the top of the ridge and then torn its way downhill, where the explo sion apparently occurred and the fire broke out in larger parts of the wreckage. Appar ently the fires had burnt fierce ly only for a brief time in some parts. Heavy metal parts of the fuselage and engines were melted and buckled by the in tensity of the fire from the main portion of the plane in which the 13 persons were trap ped. Some trees 50 yards away were scorched.
Few personal belongings were found about the scene of the crash. Civil Aviation Depart ment officials impounded some of the plane's instruments. They stated that these indicated that the plane was probably on a course set slightly south of east and travelling about 150 miles an hour at the time of the crash, and showed an altitude of 4,500ft. This tallies with the estimated height (4,600ft.) of Square Peak and the estimated distance from the top when the plain first crashed. The bodies of the four women and nine men had to be tied to stretchers to enable bearers to carry them down the narrow paths and through the dense bush to the waiting police trucks and ambulances six miles below. It was just on dusk when the task was com pleted. Tonight the bodies of the 13 victims were laid in Tamworth morgue to await the arrival of relatives or friends to identify them.
Many theories on the cause of Lutana's crash have been ad vanced by aviation experts in N.S.W. since the wreckage was discovered, but most agree that there could be at least a dozen explanations. Most favour the suggestion that in the severe storm which the plane encount ered on Thursday night there was possibly some damage to instruments or radio equip ment, or both, by lightning or that severe icing interfered with the controls and set the airliner badly off course. The time of the crash has more or less been fixed at only a few minutes after the pilot had been in perfect touch with Mas cot, and it is thought that he could easily have reported any change of plans. At Cessnock today the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) offered on behalf of the Common wealth Government the deepest sympathy of the people of Aus tralia to the families and rela tives of those who were killed in the Lutana crash.