Home Melbourne Stories The story of Kurana Plane crash at Mount Macedon

The story of Kurana Plane crash at Mount Macedon

Crash scene

Mount Macedon Regional park is home to Kurana Memorial, which commemorate the airplane crash that happened at Mount Macedon in 1948. Apart from the tragic loss of lives, it also commemorates the miraculous escape of all the passengers and the air hostess of the flight.

At 7:40am on Monday, November 8th, 1948, Australian National Airway’s airliner, the “Kurana” a Douglas DC3, bound for Deniliquin, crashed in a pine plantation owned by George Nicholas at Mount Macedon. The pieces of the wing and the tail were ripped off as the plane slashed through the trees. The plane was smouldering when the passengers were escaping, exploded a few minutes later and was totally destroyed by fire.  The plane left Essendon airport at 7:37am on a flight to Deniliquin, Griffith, Narrandera, Wagga Wagga and Sydney. The plane was eight miles off its course with around 16 degrees west of the route which had been plotted officially for the flight. Some sections of the media reported it as Miracle of the Macedon, as 19 passengers and one crew member miraculously escaped the crash. Seven passengers were injured in the crash, two sustained serious injuries.

Elizabeth Fry

Pilot of the flight, Captain H Warlow Davies was killed outright and First Officer James Barrington Keyes died at the Keyneton Hospital. Just three weeks before the accident Captain Warlow Davies’s wife gave birth to a baby girl. The 27-year-old Captain had 5000 flying hours to his credit and was a fighter pilot in RAAF and had been with ANA since 1944. The 38-year-old First Officer Keys had 4000 flying hours and had a three-year-old daughter at the time of death.

Crash scene

Hostess Elizabeth Charlotte Fry was commended for her calmness and sense of duty after the accident. At the time of the crash Fry was at the tail end of the flight preparing to serve the breakfast.  Due to the impact of the crash, she was thrown violently to the floor of the plane and couldn’t get up for some time.   The plane landed on its belly smashing the under carriage. She saw flames near the front of the cabin so called out to passengers to escape through the rear door, which had been thrown open by the impact. Fearing that the petrol tanks would explode any moment, she tried to shepherd the passengers as far away from it as possible. Three other male passengers joined her to check on the pilots. Captain Davies was hanging out of the cockpit through the broken glass apparently unconscious or dead. Captain Keyes was hanging out of the other side groaning. The men managed to pull them out and laid on the ground. Soon afterwards, the flight exploded. One week after the crash, Fry was back on duty. On 4th May 1949, she received an inscribed silver salver from the insurer, The Lloyds of London to commemorate her bravery.

In 1950 Fry presented her awards to the Gisborne and Mount Macedon Districts Historical Society for safe keeping.  On 31st August 2011, Elizabeth Charlotte Smythe died in Remo, Nevada, USA, after a long and determined battle with Parkinson’s disease. Click the link to read her obituary. https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/rgj/obituary.aspx?n=elizabeth-smyth&pid=153842395

The flight was originally plotted to fly at an attitude of 7000 ft, but Pilot Captain Warlow Davies asked for a permission to fly at 3000 ft, which was granted. 3000 ft was a safe height had the flight not drifted from its course. The Mount Macedon was marked on the aviation maps at 3324ft.

The West Australian reported on 10th November 1948, that atleast one passenger noticed the airline was flying too far west. A stud farm which he wished to point out to a fellow passenger appeared on the right instead of the left of the plane. This also suggested that if the plane was drifting off the course, the pilots should have noticed it. Because the 3000ft attitude was approved only for visual flight rules that is flight with good ground visibility. So, at that time it was believed that the pilots failed to detect the drift towards Mount Macedon, flew into a dense cloud, and when only a few hundred feet from the mount, got a glimpse of the rapidly approaching mountain. In an attempt to cushion the impact, pilot probably pulled up the nose of the plane and eased it into the pine forest, switching the engines off to lessen the chance of immediate explosion.

On the 50th Anniversary of the tragic incident Kurana Memorial was erected on Mount Macedon on 8th November 1998.

About Kurana aircraft

In 1937, Australian National Airways underwent an equipment upgrade, acquiring larger capacity all-metal aircraft. They selected the DC-3 (Douglas Commercial Type 3), manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company of California, USA, and purchased four of these planes. The VH-UZK, registered as Kurana, arrived in Australia in December 1937, exactly two years after the first of this aircraft type took to the skies.

The DC-3 aircraft became the flagship fleet operating on ANA’s trunk routes. However, with Australia’s declaration of war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939, the entire DC-3 fleet of ANA was requisitioned by the RAAF on charter. Consequently, the Kurana was designated A30-2 on September 11th. These planes were modified for air/sea rescue missions and deployed for coastal patrols and convoy protection.

In February 1940, Kurana returned to civilian service. Yet, following the events of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, it was the first aircraft used in the evacuation of women and children from New Guinea to Australia. Throughout the war, the plane also performed secret missions and facilitated the training of USAAF crews.

With the arrival of peace in 1945, the DC-3 fleet was expanded with war surplus aircraft until more modern designs became available.

Obituary: Elizabeth Charlotte Smyth

Elizabeth Charlotte Smyth passed away peacefully on August 31,2011 in Reno after a long and determined battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Elizabeth, (Liz) was born on 29 September 1924 in Melbourne, Australia, the second daughter to Garnett and Evelyn Julia (Edmonds) Fry. Her early years were spent in Hampton, Australia and then in Brighton where she attended Firbank Girls’ Grammar School. In her late teens she finished school and began working to help in the World War II war effort. Her first job was at the Maribyrnong Ammunition Works in Melbourne, Australia. After the war Elizabeth joined Australian National Airways as a flight attendant.

On November 8, 1948 she was serving aboard the DC3 “Kurana” en-route from Essendon to Mangalore when the pilots encountered heavy fog. The plane crashed into Mt. Macedon killing both pilots. Elizabeth assisted the 18 passengers to safety before the plane ignited. For her bravery she received the Royal Humane Society Silver Medal as well as a Lloyds of London Silver Platter Award.

In the early 1950’s she married Lt. Commander Larry Winch, a lawyer in the Royal Australian Navy. In March 1952 she gave birth to son, Michael Blount Fitzgerald Winch, and moved to the Naval College in Greenwich, England. After returning to Australia, the couple divorced and Elizabeth returned home to Melbourne with her son to care for her mother.

In 1965 Elizabeth was introduced by mutual friends to Lt. Col. Frank Smyth, USMC (ret), who was visiting Australia. They were married later that year in a ceremony in Brighton, Australia. After a world tour honeymoon, the couple returned to Reno and began family life.

Elizabeth was actively involved in many volunteer organizations in the community including the Reno/Sparks Assistance League, Military Officers Wives Association, as well as Folded Wings, a group of retired flight attendants who are active in community events. Col. Smyth died in 1988 and Elizabeth decided to remain in Reno where she remained very active in community volunteer organizations. After a long illness, her son, Michael, passed away in April 1994. Elizabeth continued to be a central figure in Reno charity work until her long battle with Parkinson’s disease made it difficult for her to continue.

She was preceded in death by her loving sisters, Eleanor McGuigan and Margaret Watson, both of Australia.

Elizabeth is survived by step-son Shawn S. Smyth, grandchildren Shannon Smyth Hatalafale of Auckland, NZ and Chief Warrant Officer Scott E. Smyth, US Army. She has five great-grand children ages eight years to 3 months. In addition, she is survived by niece Lucinda J. McGuigan, nephews Andrew J. McGuigan, Peter G. McGuigan, Phillip Watson, John Watson, and eight great nieces and nephews who reside in Australia.