Topic: Kaimai Air Disaster (3 July 1963)

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At 9:09am on 3 July 1963 twenty-three people died in what remains New Zealand's worst internal aviation disaster. As a National Airways Corporation DC-3 plane began its descent towards Tauranga in poor weather it was suddenly caught in severe turbulence and slammed into a ridge on the Kaimai Range, killing all on board. Researched and written by Debbie McCauley.

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The recently refurbished DC-3 Skyliner departed from Auckland on 3 July 1963, bound for Wellington via Tauranga, Gisborne and Napier.

The weather was stormy and forecasts underestimated the force of the wind.

At approximately 9:09am when just two minutes from Tauranga, the plane began its descent. It was caught in a sudden downdraught and slammed into a ridge 100ft from the top of Mount Ngatamahinerua, the highest ridge in the Kaimai Ranges. Insufficient altitude and problems as a result of inferior navigational equipment contributed to the crash, but inadequate forecasting of ferocious winds was the deciding factor.

Residents and workers from Gordon Quarry south-east of Te Aroha first raised the alarm. During heavy rain they had heard the sound of a low flying aircraft whose roaring engines were cut off abruptly. Tower staff at the Tauranga Airport were frantically trying to contact the plane when Matamata Police phoned with the worker's report.

A major search operation was launched with workers from Gordon Quarry being the first ground search party to head into the bush. Hampering them was dense mist and scrub along with terrible weather. They, along with other search parties, were forced to turn back when the late afternoon light began to fail. Aircraft had been despatched earlier in the day but called back due to danger from the severe turbulence. Gordon Quarry became search headquarters.

Drilling in prep for burying DC3 on Kaimai Ranges

Drilling in prep for burying DC3 on Kaimai Ranges

It took two days for rescuers to locate and reach the crash site. The wreckage was located by helicopter pilot Mike Alexander who consulted with local farmers about the general direction in which to search. His memory of finding the wreckage was that 'the horror of the crash showed itself. The aircraft had hit a rock face, slumped back into a tiny pocket below and burnt out. Really burnt out. I could not see the possibility of survivors' (Waugh, 2003, p. 31).

The 20 passengers and 3 crew who lost their lives:

  1. Eleanor Eileen Boddington (nee Matthews). Aged 54, the wife of Huia she was a talented tennis and golf player.
  2. Huia Duncan Boddington. Aged 55, the husband of Eleanor. Huia had been an inspector for the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board and was in the electrical repair business.
  3. Leonard John James Cartmer. Aged 46 Leonard was a Senior Meat Inspector with the Department of Agriculture.
  4. Shelia Maureen Cooney. Aged 38, Shelia lived in Grey Street, Tauranga. She was a legal secretary.
  5. Leonard Derek Enchmarch. Captain Enchmarch was 35 years old and married with three young daughters.
  6. Graham Clifford Frederick Flyger. Aged 22, Graham worked for Berlei (NZ) Ltd as a sales representative.
  7. Edward Lionel Goddard. Aged 37, Edward was married with four young children. He was the General Manager of General Foods in Auckland.
  8. Tuta Hongara Grace. Aged 20, Tuta was on leave from the Royal New Zealand Navy. He was travelling to attend the funeral of his nephew.
  9. William Bruce Gray. Aged 35, William had two young daughters. He was an architect travelling on business.
  10. John Russell Hardley. Aged 31, John was married with two young children. He was employed by ICI (NZ).
  11. Peter George Guinness Kissel. First Officer Kissel was 39 years old and married with three young children.
  12. Herbert Edward Lewis. Aged 66, Herbert was travelling with William Gray to a Tauranga building job. He was an electrician.
  13. Gavin Andrew Long. Aged 27, Gavin was married with two children (another born after the crash) and worked for Aluminium Distributors Ltd.
  14. Norman Geoffrey Morris. Aged 30, Norman was married with three young children. He worked in the family clothing business; Melbourne Cash Ltd.
  15. Frederick Charles Pullum. Aged 43, English born Fred was travelling on business for the refridgeration and air conditioning department of Jas. J. Niven and Co. Ltd. He was married with two children.
  16. Sarah Te Taumiria Seymour. It was Sarah's 27th birthday on the day of the crash. She was flying home from Australia to family in Gisborne. Sarah had previously worked as a nurse with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
  17. John Smith. Aged 42, English born John was married with three young children. He was a Sales Manager for Wilson and Horton.
  18. Diane Veronica Taylor. Aged 27, Diane was the mother of two young children. She was on her way to visit a sister in Rotorua whose baby had recently died.
  19. Leslie Frederick Taylor. Aged 48, Leslie was travelling on business for the refridgeration and air conditioning department of Jas. J. Niven and Co. Ltd. He was married with one daughter.
  20. Frederick Tolerton. Aged 81, Fred was the husband of Ruth. He was a former Gisborne City Councillor and Deputy Mayor.
  21. Ruth Tolerton (nee Winter). Aged 58, Ruth was the wife of Frederick.
  22. Elizabeth Jill Louise Wilson. Flight hostess Jill Wilson was 22 years old.
  23. Kenneth John Woodger. Aged 40, English born Kenneth was married with two young daughters and three sons. He was the General Manager of Lift Slab Australasia Ltd.

Prime Minister at the time was Keith Holyoake. A public inquiry was announced by John McAlpine, Minister in Charge of Civil Aviation. The Court of Inquiry stated the 'Cause of the Accident': 'In the opinion of the Court the main cause of the accident was a strong downward current in the lee of the Kaimai Range close to the Gordon Quarry. This downward current carried the aircraft below the level of the crests of the range, where, under the conditions prevailing at the time, the aircraft encountered an area of extreme turbulence in which it was impossible for the pilot for regain effective control and recover height. Contributing causes to the accident were:

  • The Captain of the aircraft was unaware of his true position and inititated a premature descent. However, it must be appreciated that he decide to descent only to the level officially designated as the minimum safe altitude in the area of his descent.
  • The decision of the Civil Aviation authorities to classify the Kaimai Range as non-mountanous terrain for the purpose of determining the safe altitude for the route.
  • The misleading forecasts of the upper winds between Whenuapai and Tauranga' (as cited in Waugh, 2003, p. 53).

A plaque is attached to a rock near the remains of a wing at the crash site. It reads: 'Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AYZ 'Hastings' of N. Z. National Airways Corporation crashed here into the Kaimai Range, near Mt. Ngatamahinerua, on 3 July 1963, during a scheduled flight from Auckland to Tauranga. Placed here in sacred memory of the three crew and twenty passengers who died on Flight 441. At the time this was the worst aviation accident in New Zealand. 3 July 2003'.

On the 40th anniversary of the disaster, on 5 July 2003, a roadside memorial was unveiled at Gordon, near Matamata. This is situated on the northeastern roadside of Old Te Aroha Road about 18km from Te Aroha and Matamata. The approximate area of the crash site in the Kaimai Ranges can be seen from this spot.

On the 50th anniversary of the disaster, on 3 July 2013, around 250 people gathered at the memorial service held in Matamata.

 

Sources:

Bay of Plenty Times from 3 July 1963.

Bay of Plenty Times: Carnage in the Kaimai Range (28 June 2003).

Bay of Plenty Times: Memorial marks air disaster (7 July 2003).

Kaimai crash by Richard Waugh(2003 - reprinted 2012).

More New Zealand Disasters by Eugene Charles Grayland.

New Zealand Memories Aug/Sept 2003 (p. 58-62).

Tauranga City Libraries Wiki.

Te Ara.

 

How to cite this page: McCauley, Debbie (2013). Kaimai Air Disaster (3 July 1963). Retrieved from http://tauranga.kete.net.nz/tauranga_local_history/topics/show/1405 (Tauranga Memories, last updated: *insert date*). In-text citation: (McCauley, 2013)

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/V3XB-6RYU

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Kaimai Air Disaster (3 July 1963)


Year:1963