In mid-1943 a RAAF Beaufort bomber inexplicably crashed on Bass Strait’s King Island killing all four crew members. Unreported then by the media – presumably because of wartime censorship – a cluster of white-marble CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) headstones in the Currie cemetery appear to be the Island’s only clues to this wartime tragedy.
Beaufort A9-352 was conducting a night-time landing approach into Currie when, at 0200 (Eastern Standard Time) on July 11th 1943 it reportedly crashed 1½ miles east of the airfield. Assigned to the RAAF’s No.1 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in East Sale, Victoria, it was – at the time of the accident – part of a three-plane formation engaged on a dead-reckoning navigation exercise. The aircraft was totally destroyed with the bulk of the burnt wreckage later recovered by personnel from the RAAF’s No.27 RSU (Repair and Salvage Unit).
A service funeral ceremony was performed for the entire crew at 1600 hours on 13th July 1943 attended by a No.1 O.T. U. officer, Squadron Leader R A Dunne.
Being unable to determine the cause of the accident the air force investigating committee categorized it (i.e. the cause) as ‘100% obscure’. The weather was not identified as a contributing factor on this occasion and significantly, as revealed during the subsequent investigation, the pilot was found to possess above-average piloting skills.
Pilot Officer Harold Snell, who was flying the aircraft when it crashed, had logged 280 flying hours altogether (88 hours on type). Moreover, Beaufort A9-352 was still an almost-new aircraft when it crashed, having only been delivered from the factory in Melbourne a month earlier.
Wartime flying training does however appear to have been a risky business, with No.1 OTU having lost another two aircraft (Oxford BM686 and Hudson A16-32) in the week prior to the King Island crash. Hudson A16-32 had also been conducting a night navigation exercise (East Sale- Flinders Island – Currie – Hogan Group – East Sale) when it disappeared without trace on 6 July 1943.
In a further cruel twist, Beaufort A9-354 (which had been flying formation with Snell’s A9-352 at the time it crashed on King Island) was also involved in a fatal accident the following month.