Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith 80th Anniversary

In the early hours of 11 January 1933 before a cheering crowd of more than 1000 people, the Southern Cross prepared for take off at Seven Mile Beach, Gerroa. This was to be the first commercial Trans-Tasman flight.

On board was the crew of three and two passengers: Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (Pilot), Captain PG Taylor (Co-Pilot), Mr John SW Stannage (Wireless Operator), Mr SE Nielson (Secretary, New Plymouth and New Zealand Aero Clubs) and Mr James Percival (Journalist). In addition the plane was carrying 660 gallons of petrol, 30 gallons of oil and the recently released film “Air Mail”.

Prior to the flight the Southern Cross had been guarded by 10 policemen, protection against sightseers and souvenir hunters. The crowd on the beach had gathered throughout the day, picnicking parties of Mums, Dads and children. Meanwhile the crew prepared for the flight  refuelling the plane and making use of the Berry Surf Shed where they collated weather reports and rested. They waited for low tide.

Smithy was awakened at midnight and given a favourable weather report. Farewells were made, the plane taxied up the beach from south to north along a runway illuminated on the port side by car headlights and burning oil drums and starboard by the rolling breakers. Smithy leaned out of the cockpit and called “Cheerio everyone” and received a tremendous reply of “Good Luck! Cheerio!”

“The plane took off splendidly after a run of about half a mile and turned at the end of the beach, sending up several Verey lights. Then she came back right over the surf shed again, with the searchlight on, and after circling made straight out to sea, the only lights visible being those in the cabin” Kiama Independent, January 14, 1933.

The flight was reportedly uneventful with fine weather throughout, however they were blown further south than anticipated causing them to exceed their 13 hour target. The flight took 14 hours and 10 minutes and The Southern Cross was greeted in New Plymouth, New Zealand at 7pm (5pm Sydney time).

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith was born in Queensland in 1897. He is famous nationally and internationally for his many pioneering flights and his war service. He was knighted in 1932 for services to aviation. On the 8th November 1935, he and co-pilot Tommy Pethybridge disappeared over the Andaman Sea while on a flight from India to Singapore. Their bodies were never recovered.

Information courtesy of the Gerringong District Historical Society.

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