By Roman Kulkewycz
Ken Sumsion was a 15-year-old air cadet when the RAAF aircraft he was flying in crash landed in Garfield. Fifty-nine years later he returned to the crash site, as ROMAN KULKEWYCZ reports.
It was a clear blue sky on the warm Friday morning of 17 January 1958.
Pimply faced 15-year-old Ken Sumsion, along with 24 other excited, adventurous RAAF Air Training Corps cadets, a Reserve instructor, plus an military photographer, a civilian scientist and the two pilots boarded an ARDU Dakota A65-99 at the RAAF base at Laverton for an air experience flight to an airfield at East Sale and back.
Throughout the flight Ken was seated on the starboard (right) side of the fuselage near the wing.
“Right from take-off I was continuously looking through the window at everything possible when I noticed some oil coming out of the starboard engine,” he said.
“This became quite a stream and, after a time, the propeller stopped and restarted a few times, but eventually remained stationary.
“I had been trying without success to bring this to the attention of the others, but when it stayed stopped I got their attention.
“I had also noticed oil coming out of the port engine as well.
“About this time we were advised by the pilot that we were turning around and heading for Moorabbin Airport.
“I remember flying very low over a building I thought was the Bunyip Post Office and, I would think, leaving a trail of oil.
“However, returning to Moorabbin soon became out of the question.
“Not long after turning back, a cadet who had been up front with the flight crew came out and very calmly told us we were about to make an emergency forced landing and to fasten our seat belts.
“I suddenly discovered that my seat belt had no buckle and I just had to hang on grimly to the conduit armrest next to my seat.
“There was no sign of panic or stress at any stage; it was all happening so very fast.
“However, looking down at my hands, I vividly remember that my knuckles had turned a whiter shade of pale.
“The Dakota glided towards the ground smoothly and silently. For a moment time stood still.
“Contact with the tops of the cyprus trees was slight and didn’t bother me. Contact with ground, wheels up was smooth too.
“Sliding along the ground for about 500 metres, there was a bit of clattering as we demolished a post and wire fence. I saw bits of it whizz past the window.
“We missed everything that mattered – the road, the ditch, the pine trees, the house, the concrete water tower and the 22 kilovolt power lines.
“It was quite eerie after the dust blew away – quiet and peaceful.
“I remember we marched out of the aircraft in an orderly fashion. Fortunately nobody was injured.
“My most memorable moment following the crash is of the ladies who suddenly appeared as if by magic out of nowhere with food and drinks.
“They were so kind, comforting and efficient, and it was as if it were all a routine part of their day’s activities.
“As I got older the yearning to kick over the traces had increased.
“I made a start in 1999 by buying some newspapers reporting the crash and scratching around on the internet.
“I have the relevant Sun front page framed in my work room.
“I played a plate event at Garfield Golf Club some 12 years ago and afterwards took a drive around and thought I may have found the paddock in question.
“I was a bit occupied with running a small business then and didn’t go on with it.
“Now I live at Emerald and since our golf club closed down I have joined the Garfield Golf Club and have reconnected with the town that I became “accidently” acquainted with 59 years ago.”