Downpour causes airport crash

Last updated 14:52 03/01/2014

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Express files

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Maike van der Heide continues the series looking back over stories of interest from the Marlborough Express files. This instalment is from February 3, 1954. 

A failed engine and slick runway caused an 18-tonne Bristol Freighter aircraft to overshoot the grassed runway at Woodbourne Airport just before takeoff, crash through a fence and land, crumpled, in a ditch.

Both pilots, Captain H Boyes and First Officer C Stevens, were uninjured after their attempt to stop the Straits Air Freight Express plane, registration ZK-AYG, when it became apparent the starboard motor was not running properly.

Attempts to brake the aircraft - already travelling at 50 knots, or about 92kph - were "futile" on a field sodden by abnormally heavy rain, and the plane skidded across about two-thirds of the airfield, the Express reported.

Near the boundary the crew tried to turn the plane to run parallel to the fence. "The effect was practically nil, however, for the aircraft simply slewed sideways, crashed through the boundary fence, leapt over a ditch, which ripped off the starboard undercarriage, and came to a standstill with its belly resting on the road and the machine's nose pointing south."

Even with one wing pointing into the sky and the other crumpled underneath, the five tonnes of cargo inside the plane somehow did not budge.

Straits Air Freight Express (Safe) operations manager Captain R B Hamilton said the accident probably would not have happened if the runway had been sealed.

The heavy rain that soaked the airport also hit the Pelorus area hard, flooding the main road at Rai Valley, causing heavy stock loss and forcing families to flee their homes. Even a deer was seen "swimming manfully with the current" in the Brown River.

Arrangements had been made to truck a boat over from Nelson to help with any further evacuations.

Mr C T Leov, who had lived in the Rai for 50 years, told the Express he moved 200 sheep to higher ground but many had drowned in lower paddocks.

He could only remember one bigger flood, on Good Friday in 1930.

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- The Marlborough Express


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