AMANA INQUIRY EXPERT EIGHT HOURS IN WITNESS BOX After more than eight hours in the witness box, the chief engine expert of the Department of Civil Aviation, Charles Wilfred James Gibbs, of McKinnon, Victoria, yesterday afternoon completed his evidence before the Air Court of Inquiry into the crash of the Australian National Airways flagship, Amana, on June 26 with the loss of 29 lives.
The main subject of a long cross-examination of Gibbs by counsel was the possibility of water having been introduced into No. 1 and No. 4 engines through the fuel feed lines. He is the 62nd witness to be heard by Mr. Justice Simpson, who, with the assistance of two as sessors, Capt. J. W. Bennett and Mr. D. B. Hudson, is con ducting the inquiry. During his evidence yesterday Gibbs said that despite all the measures taken by the various oil companies to prevent water being introduced into the fuel, instances had occurred of water having been found in aircraft tanks in appreciable quantities. In some cases it had been as a result of faulty fuelling caps, but in others the water might have been intro duced with the fuel at refuelling. Referring to the incident re lated in evidence by Cuthbert Allan James Lum, who said that he had encountered water in the fuel of his aircraft after 20 minutes flying, although he had drained the weatherheads at Ceduna, the witness said there was a pocket in the tank of the DC3 aircraft. One operator in the Northern Territory had found it necessary to taxi his plane around the aerodrome to shake any water that might be present in the tanks, down to the ap propriate weatherheads. The R.A.A.F. in Singapore and the Middle East had also had trouble with the presence of water and were still worried obout it. Water In Fuel The Department of Civil Avia tion was working on modifica tions for the fuel tanks as were the R.A.A.F., witness said. He had been engaged on the work before he was called to Perth to attend the inquiry. Resuming his evidence yesterday morning, Gibbs said that the water in the fuel supply of an engine would affect its perform ance, and the resultant rough running could be evident to ground observers. There would have been an irregular running and an apparent burst of power when only fuel was introduced into the system after water had passed through. Such a condi tion could have led to backfiring. The water which had caused the corrosion in parts of No. 4 engine might have been the re maining quantity of a gallon or a cupful, he said. If the cap tain had tolerated the rough run ning for a few moments longer the engine would have come to life again, he considered, but it was now impossible to say whether further water was present in other parts of the fuel system. Gibbs read a report that No. 2 engine of the Amana was run ning roughly on June 17 but that on examination nothing was dis covered to be wrong. On June 20 a report was made that No. 1 engine was running roughly on both magnetos but again noth ing was found to be wrong. Plugs were changed in No. 3 en gine after a report on June 21 of a rough right hand magneto. He said that he had heard of no particular effort by A.N.A. to dis cover the cause of rough running in R2000 engines (used by DC4 aircraft). Centrifugal Pump In reply to Mr. H. A. Winneke. K.C. (for the Department of Civil Aviation): It seemed to me that the fuel being supplied to one or more of the engines before the crash had been contaminated with water. In cross-examination by Mr. R. I. Ainslie (for the Vacuum Oil Co. and certain of its employees) Gibbs said that the draw-off point in No. 1 and 4 main tanks was about 3.5 in. from the rear spar of the tanks and about 1.75 in. above the base. The outlet was a cen trifugal pump and if all the fuel that could be drawn off was drawn three gallons would still
remain in the tank. Because very little was known of the effect of a centrifugal pump on water and petrol together he could not say whether the water, or petrol or a mixture of both would be drawn off when it was started up. After having heard the evidence that water-free fuel was appar ently taken aboard at Melbourne and Adelaide on the last west bound flight and that the weather heads were drained in Sydney it was very difficult to understand how water came to be in the tank, he said. The inquiry was adjourned until 10 a.m. today. Mr. Seaton. K.C., with Mr. B. Simpson is assisting the Court; Mr. Winneke K.C. and Mr. R. J. Leckie for the Department of Civil Aviation; Mr. G. A. Pape for A.N.A.; Mr. Ainslie for Vacuum Oil Co. and certain of its employ ees; Mr. F. T. P. Burt for the Air Pilots' Association: and Mr. R. Holmes for the widow of E. S. Baker and his employers, Ampol Petroleum Ltd.