Tributes flow 60 years on after fatal plane crash
THE LIVES of nine Rockhampton Grammar School students that were cut short in a plane crash off Mackay’s coast 60 years ago have this week been remembered.
Scaled-back ceremonies honouring the students, along with 20 other crash victims, were held on school grounds as the community marked another year since the disaster.
Sadly, what was supposed to be a large ceremony to mark its anniversary instead proved a more private affair due to tightened COVID-19 restrictions.
Commemorated by verbal tributes and laid wreaths, the sombre occasion provided both school officials and captains the opportunity to reflect on one of the institution’s most tragic moments.
The fatal Abel Tasman crash of a plane bound for Mackay from Rockhampton on 10 June 1960, is to this day considered Australia’s worst civil air accident.
It claimed the lives of students Maxwell Barclay, Donald Brown, Brian Burnell, Edgar Dowse, Frederick Graham, Stuart Jackson, Allan Morrow, David Patterson, Trevor Patterson.
Mr Barclay, aged just 9, was the youngest victim.
RGS headmaster Dr Philip Moulds paid tribute to the schoolboys, saying the event’s aftermath and grief remained in the heart of the school and its past students and staff.
“The students, all boarders, were going home for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. Taking a flight rather than the train or drive was an exciting adventure,” he said.
“In fact, it was the first time the Mackay boarders had chosen to fly home for weekend leave.”
Reports of two aborted landing attempts emerged shortly after 10pm, however only a few minutes later communication to the cockpit was lost altogether.
In the early hours of the next morning the plane’s wreckage was located five nautical miles east of Mackay Airport.
Poor visibility due to shallow fog patches was recognised the most likely cause of the tragedy.
“The impact on the students, staff and broader Rockhampton and Mackay communities was immense,” Dr Moulds aid.
While a formal inquiry did not officially determine the particular cause of the crash, it did lead to a world-first mandated use of black boxes in cockpits.
“As a headmaster, I cannot begin to image the impact and grief that then headmaster Mr Jardine would have felt when, on the day following the crash, he personally visited each of the families in Mackay.
“Today, we honour each of those students and take a moment to think of their families, friends and staff at the school who this event left an indelible mark and changed the course of lives for many people.”
Commemorations also took place in Mackay with a small ceremony at Far Beach.