Death of a Dragon

Twenty year old Air Force Sergeant Alan Andrew Pearson had only made the forty-five minute flight from Archerfield to Toowoomba once before, uneventfully, on 24 February 1943. It was early Autumn when he next flew that route, again accompanied by nineteen year old Air Mechanic Albert Munt in their unit’s (No.4 Communications Flight) newest aircraft – Dragon A34-49. On this occasion however, as he approached the escarpment from the east, he found the city obscured by a thick blanket of fog.

Seen here in the late 1930s, the ‘City of Toowoomba’ was identical to the DH84 that crashed into Redwood Park in 1943 (SLQ Negative number 17062).

Standing on his verandah at 8.30 that same morning was Redwood Park’s Ranger, Joseph Radcliffe, who later recalled watching as Pearson’s twin-engine DH84 biplane neared before suddenly banking to the right….’by the sound of the engines he [Radcliffe] formed the opinion that the pilot accelerated in order to gain height. The plane was still banking when it collided with a tree and then crashed to the ground. It immediately burst into flames but the crew got clear before the flames ignited the body of the plane.’ Pearson goes on to state ‘that the fog was very thick at the time and the visibility poor.’

The local investigating constable prepared a written report on the incident the following day…

I have to report at about 8-30 a.m. on even date a Dragon twin-engine bi-plane crashed into a true In Redwood Park, Toowoomba Range, Toowoomba, and bursting into flames was totally destroyed.

The crew of this plane were Sergeant Pilot Airman Alan Andrew PEARSON, aged 20 years, and Flight Mechanic Albert MUNT, aged 19 years. PEARSON received incised wounds on the forehead and left top side of head. MUNT had an incised wound on the left side of the forehead. They were attended by the Toowoomba Ambulance and later conveyed to the Military 117 A.G.H., where they were admitted to ward G for observation. Other than the above injuries these men appeared to suffer no ill affects [sic] from the crash.

Sergeant Pilot Airman PEARSON was the pilot of the plane in question and he informed me that he followed the Brisbane – Toowoomba highway until he was approaching the Toowoomba Range, where the morning fog became very heavy. The visibility was bad and he decided to return to his base, Archerfield Aerodrome. He banked to the right and collided with a tree which he could not see, owing to the poor visibility, and the plane crashed to the ground. The tree in question is situated about seventy-five yards in practically a direct line from the front of the ranger’s house, and [how] the plane crashed to the ground practically on top of a rise, about twenty paces from the tree. This tree was snapped off at the trunk, about two feet from the ground, and the trunk fell towards the position of the plane.

From my inquiries and observations I am of the opinion this accident was caused through the heavy fog and poor visibility, and had the plane not collided with the tree it would have cleared the rise and other trees In the vicinity. Wing Commander RAE of Toowoomba Headquarters was at the scene and he arranged with Sub-Inspector HALL to place an air-force guard on the destroyed machine. (Queensland State Archives: Series 16865 Item 2177732)

Extract – No.4 Communication’s Flight Unit History (National Archives of Australia: NAA:A9186,233)

Since joining the RAAF in September 1941 Pearson had logged an impressive 467 flying hours, although it is unclear if he’d had much experience flying DH84s. He had in fact only been with No.4 Communications Flight a matter of weeks, having collected the newly-built A34-49 from De Havilland factory in Sydney, before ferrying it to Archerfield on 10 February 1943.

After inspecting the crash-site Pearson’s Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader J Macdonald, also prepared an internal report in which he describes Pearson’s piloting skills as ‘average’.

At 0745 hrs. on 2nd March, 1943, DH.84 A34-49 piloted by No.413500 Acting-Sergeant A.A. PEARSON and with No.77305 AC1. Munt, Flight Mechanic took off for Archerfield to pick up Air Force and Army Personnel.

Nearing completion of journey weather began to deteriorate and pilot, in pushing ahead in face of adverse conditions was flying in a westerly direction, beneath a cloud and in poor visibility up the left hand side of a deep valley, 2/3 miles East of Toowoomba. Near the head of the valley aircraft ran into cloud and mist and pilot endeavoured to turn back to avoid high ground ahead, but steep sides of the valley had closed in, and when step right hand 180 deg. Turn was almost completed aircraft struck trees on the right hand side of the valley, went out of control, crashed and burst into flames, being almost totally destroyed by fire. Crew escaped with slight injuries (lacerations of the scalp) and were detained four days in 117th Australian General Hospital at Toowoomba. Crew removed three parachutes complete and one harness as they left the aircraft. No action to extinguish the fire was possible. (National Archives of Australia: NAA: 9845, 213)

The RAAF eventually determined that the crash had been caused by ‘Personal Error of Judgement’ (30%), ‘Poor Technique’ (60%), and ‘Miscellaneous Weather’ (10%).

Following the crash, both crew members were transferred to the 117th Australian General Hospital – a.k.a. Downlands College – for observation (AWM Accession Number 148951)

Munt recovered quickly, and barely a few weeks after this crash was again flying into Toowoomba (aboard the Flight’s replacement DH84). Although Pearson never resumed duties with No.4 Communications Flight, he remained with the RAAF and was eventually discharged – from No.21 Squadron – in 1946. He continued civilian flying after the war, eventually becoming Secretary of the Canberra Aero Club.

Air Force records indicate that the wreckage was salvaged soon after the crash, although this is unlikely to have occurred. Any large metal components that survived the crash and fire were more probably left in situ, and souvenired.

And as for Redwood Park, well, it never quite became the tourism magnet that Mayor Annand had intended. Officially opened in 1941, it was envisaged that the 500 acre Park (between the Highway and Prince Henry Heights) would eventually become a sanctuary for native flora and fauna enabling ‘Toowoomba Highway travellers to look into the reserve and see Australian animals in natural surroundings.’ Already, by February 1941 steps had been taken to stock the park, Council having been ‘given some wallabies…and a [lone] koala.’.


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