From Cairns to Salamaua: Derek Crisp

Copy of E.D. Crisp’s report on flight from Cairns to Salamaua, 16 February to 2 March 1938.

The following narrative is also shown as slides in the Photo Gallery under reference “One of the Early Birds: Derek (Jos) Elwyn Crisp” by David Montgomery,
starting with this slide.

The Manager, Mandated Airlines Limited,
S a l a m a u a

Dear Sir,

The following is a report in full of my recent flight from Cairns to Salamaua in the Dragon Aircraft VH-AAC.

Approximately mid-day of February 16th I took over the plane from Mr Mant.

The tail wheel (old pattern) was not tracking correctly, so I had it greased and examined before departing.

After obtaining clearances, etc, sufficient benzene and oil was loaded into the plane (other than what was carried in the tanks) to enable me to proceed to Somerset after refuelling at some beach between Cooktown and Cape York. From enquiries made at Cairns, I was advised to land on a beach at Cape Weymouth. I ascertained from the Cairns Harbour Board particulars as to tides at Cairns and Thursday Island for the next few days. These particulars varied somewhat from each other, and as no other tidal information of the coast was available, I applied the difference of distances of Cape Weymouth from Cairns and Thursday Island to the tidal chart and trusted the results would be accurate enough.

I left Cairns for Cooktown during the afternoon of the 16th, and arrived an hour later to find the aerodrome under water. However, I landed on the old race-course which is frequently used for the purpose.

My plans were to leave Cooktown the following morning at daybreak so as to reach Cape Weymouth shortly after full low tide. The tail wheel again gave me trouble, making it almost impossible to turn the machine on the ground. I thought it wise to give it my attention before proceeding and attempting a landing on a beach. In dismantling, greasing and assembling the unit I lost a valuable hour of the early morning.

On arriving at Cape Weymouth 2½ hours after leaving Cooktown, I found that the tide was too high on the beach recommended to me to permit a safe landing, so had to use a shorter and steeper beach approximately a mile further north. With difficulty I landed the machine without damage; marked the height of the tide and proceeded to refuel. After refuelling one tank I was forced to abandon the work owing to exceptionally heavy rain which lasted an hour. By the time refuelling was completed I had been on the beach two hours and the tide had made considerably.

I was misled by a line of debris high up on the beach which I took to be high water mark. Actually as I found out later, high water mark was only a few feet further up the beach from where it was when I finished refuelling.

Judging by the line of debris, I considered it absolutely necessary to get into the air again as soon as possible so as to avoid being partly submerged by the tide. I therefore started up the engines and proceeded to turn the plane on the rather steeply sloping beach. When nearly halfway round, the tail wheel again gave trouble and headed me for the water’s edge. By the time I stopped the plane one wheel had entered the water, and one propeller had struck the water which broke the tip off. I was therefore in a helpless position with one wheel nearly submerged and one engine out of action through the broken propeller. There was nothing that could be done to improve the situation until the tide receded. It was obvious that I should try and get the plane to a higher position on the beach when the tide fell. As soon as it was possible I gave both engines my attention. The port engine received a fairly good wetting owing to the rise of the tide and the slight swell that was running. It was necessary to drain oil tanks and rocker-box covers; remove and dry out all sparking plugs; dry out all H.T. leads and distributors and many other incidental jobs. All this had to be done during the time available between frequent heavy showers of rain and had to be completed before the rising tide prevented further work. Fortunately I had brought a kit of tools with me from New Guinea, otherwise this work would have been impossible.

The starboard engine was got running but the port engine would not start owing to the presence of water in the impulse magneto. As the sea water was by now up again up to the wheels, I had to abandon the attempt to move the plane under its own power for that day. I removed the impulse magneto of the port engine and began dismantling and overhauling same, but was unable to complete the work before dark.

The following day (18th) I decided again to attempt to get the port motor running and try to get the plane above high water mark. As the tide was making, however, I could not begin work until approx. mid-day. At about 9 a.m. I sighted an oil tanker steaming south. With the aid of a mirror I was able to attract the attention of the officer on the bridge. After some time they brought the ship closer in, hove to, and launched a boat. The boat was manned by the second officer, two apprentices and six or seven Chinese. I immediately got them to move the plane to safe ground well out of reach of the tides. I returned to the ship (Scalaria) and received permission from the Captain (Captain Asquith) to send a radio to Head Office advising them of my position and difficulties and arranging for several parts to be sent to me by McDonald’s Airways.

The Captain then invited me to luncheon, whilst sufficient stores for a week or so were got ready for me. I offered to purchase these requirements but Captain Asquith refused to accept payment for same. I would like to mention here that the actions of the Captain and crew of the Scalaria (which is the property of the Shell Oil Company and was bound from Singapore to Sydney) were all that could be desired and were greatly appreciated by myself. Might I suggest that the Company sends a letter of recognition and thanks to Captain Asquith and his crew for his timely aid and generous assistance. Had it not been for the help extended by the Scalaria the plane would have suffered considerably from immersion.

Saturday 19th was spent by my going over both engines thoroughly; draining and drying out where necessary. Late in the afternoon McDonald’s Puss Moth with Pilot R. Jowett and Aircraftsman Vines arrived from Cairns and landed on a beach a mile or so further south.

Sunday 20th. Endeavoured to get port motor in going order, but found the impulse magneto was again giving trouble, particularly the impulse. This required dismantling and cleaning the magneto for the second time. Eventually assembled magneto and fitted to engine, but was unable to start up owing to the impulse being slow in action.

Monday 21st.  Decided I would have to send to Cairns for another impulse magneto and also for a set of engine rubbers. Before dispatching the Puss Moth to Cairns, however, I changed the impulse magneto from the starboard engine to the port engine in order to try out the port engine. This was done and the engine was found to be otherwise O.K. The Puss left as soon as possible for Cairns, with a list of my requirements. I arranged for a telegraph to be sent to Head Office advising them further of my movements.

Tuesday 22nd. Finished all the work on engines, etc., it was possible to do until parts arrived from Cairns.

The weather from the date of departure from Cairns (16th) until the close of the 22nd had been bad. Heavy rain squalls which occurred frequently each day considerably hampered any work I attempted.

Wednesday 23rd. Stood-by awaiting plane and parts from Cairns.  Plane did not arrive.

Thursday 24th. Shortly after mid-day Pilot Jowett and mechanic Cassells arrived in a Gipsy Moth.  As soon as the requirements were to hand I proceeded to change the faulty engine rubbers and found to my dismay that one mounting foot was completely broken inside the rubber.  This of course necessitated a further trip to Cairns for the required part.

Friday 25th. Pilot Jowett returned to Cairns via Cohen.  I arranged for him to telegraph McDonald from Cohen for part required in case it would have to be got from Sydney.  Cassells stayed to help me when part arrived.

Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th. Awaiting return of plane from Cairns, but it did not arrive.

Monday 28th. Pilot Jowett arrived about mid-day in Gipsy Moth. The required part was procurable in Cairns. Set to work replacing broken part and was able to give engine a run during the afternoon. Everything was found O.K. but as the wind and tide were unfavourable I decided to wait until mid-day the following day when the tide would be at its lowest.

March 1st. Arranged to have all surplus benzene and removable equipment transported to the other beach to lighten the take-off load as much as possible. About mid-day I took off from Cape Weymouth beach and landed at Portland Roads beach where I refuelled and loaded all the equipment.

At 3 p.m. I took off from Portland Roads beach and headed for Somerset where I arrived at 4.30 p.m. I was met by Mr Vidgeon and was his guest for the night.

Wednesday March 2nd.  Departed from Somerset approx. 7.30 a.m. and flew over Cape York telegraph station 12 miles west, then headed for Daru.

I circled Daru and continued on to a beach a few miles east of Kerema where I landed and refuelled. After an hour’s stay I departed for Salamaua, arriving at 2.20 p.m. Advice of my arrival was immediately radioed to Head Office, Steamships Trading Company, Port Moresby, and to McDonald’s Airways Cairns.

Yours faithfully,

Sgd  E.D. Crisp

VH-AAC stranded at Cape Weymouth beach en route from Cairns to Salamaua: note the SS Scalaria in the distance.




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