Topic: NZ SAS recall the 1963 Kaimai Air Disaster

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This article by an unidentified SAS personnel was written in March 2005 and appeared in the 60th Hauraki News (August 2010).

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6th Hauraki Insignia

In reference to your letter regarding the DC3 that crashed in the Kaimai Ranges in 1963. I have given you some back ground into my & the SAS involvement. My first involvement with the DC3 was on the day of the crash. I was part of the New Zealand SAS (Special Air Service). We were on exercise in the field in the Hunia Ranges, near Auckland. We were ordered to move to the Kaimai Ranges and report to our HQ, which was moving from Papakura Military Camp to establish a forward base, to set up a search for a missing aircraft. Within a couple of hours our troop arrived at the HQ, which had established itself at the base of the Kaimai on the Matamata side, near Thompsons Track. 

1963 Kaimai Air Disaster SAS

The Base HQ had established direct communication with the Squadron HQ in Papakura and with Army HQ in Wellington. We were briefed as to our mission, “find the missing aircraft”. The Troop Commanders planned the search pattern. Our troop was given an area to search, and we were further broken down into our two man teams. This is SOP (Standard Operational Procedures) for a search such as this. Something we had done many times. Normally our target is live and ready to fight back. To us, this is our standard “bread & butter”.

At that period of time the SAS had the best equipment the Army could give us. We were all professional soldiers, and most had seen service overseas. We were experienced and had conducted many searches previously. Each sub group was self-contained. We carried one weeks rations & water, carried equipment for staying out overnight, had our own independent communication equipment and were trained to search in all types of terrain, in all weather. We were I believe the ideal group to search for the missing aircraft.

However we were never used!

We sat in our base camp for two days near the Search & Rescue HQ while the argument went on as to who was in command of us. As I was not in the Command Element, I cannot comment as to what exactly happened. The briefing given to us by our OC (Officer Commanding) Maj Velvin (who has recently died) was, in my words.

  1. “The Search & Rescue (Police?), wanted command of our unit”. After many calls to and from Army HQ, the OC refused to relinquish command to the civil authorities.
  2. “The civil authorities believed the weather and conditions were too bad for us, they did not want to later have to mount a search for us”?

This I believe was an insult to our professionalism and experience. Our group was the best the NZ Army had to offer. We had some of the best trackers in the Army. Our SOP’s had been tried and tested in combat against a live enemy who did not want to be found.

As foot note to the command & control problem. Later the SAS established excellent working relations with the Police. We conducted many searches, including escaped prisoners such as the notorious George Wilder, as well as search & rescues exercises together. There was a Joint Command HQ establish and the SAS remained under the direct control of the OC at all times. My second involvement with the DC3 was some months later, when I was selected to bury the aircraft and the remains. As not all the bodies had been recovered it was classified as a burial site by the then Internal Affairs. To prevent souvenir hunters from taking parts of the aircraft and at the same time desecrating the site. It was requested to bury the aircraft. The Army was asked to do the job. The SAS were given the task.

 I was selected as part of a four-man team. The team was commandeered by Sgt Ken Schmansiky, the others being Tpr Nat Cooper, Tpr Tom Te Uru (T Boss) and myself. I believe I had been selected as I had just completed the demolitions course, all of us are required to pass the demolition course, I had scored top marks in particular in the caculations side. My first task was the calculations of the explosive & equipment required for the mission.The remainder of the Squadron was used as porters to carry the explosives & equipment to the site. We used gelignite, cortex fuse, detonators and safety fuse. We drilled holes with a “ Atlas Copra”, petrol driven portable drill. The trek to the site with all the equipment took the Squadron two days. The drilling of the holes for the explosive took four days. The rock was harder than expected, plus the difficulty of having to rope the drill and the driller up and down the cliff face. The setting and firing the explosive took only one day.

Drilling in prep for burying DC3 on Kaimai Ranges

When we first arrived at the crash site, one of the Maori Corporals said a prayer in Maori, “to lift the tapu”. I said my own silent prayer. At first we were apprehensive about walking onto the site, as we knew there was still remains of someone’s loved one buried within the wreckage. With apprehension we slowly walked onto the site and had our first look at the wreckage. From where we were standing we able to summarize that had the SAS being allowed to enter the search, we would of found the crash quite quickly by utilizing our search pattern. The DC 3 had hit the ranges about 100 yards below the crest.

My first job was to analyze the site in particular the rock face that I intended to use to cover the wreckage. The aircraft appeared to have been traveling at full speed; thus the tail section had compressed into the main fuselage. This gave a smaller surface, to cover with the rocks, that I had intended to “blow”, onto the wreckage.

After measuring & marking the entire wall that required drilling, we took it in pairs, with one holding the rope and one handling the drill, to drill holes. During the time not drilling, I experimented with explosives on the aircraft. This was the first opportunity I had had with a “live aircraft”, to test my explosive theories. I was able to discover how much explosive, were & how to place it, to blow off a wing. Blowing open the fuselage of an aircraft. I hope that some of the data I was able to obtain was used by the SAS at a later date by the anti-terrorist group.

As I had stated, the drilling took four days due to the unexpected difficulties. The packing of the charges only one day and the firing, the regulation 3 minutes. The resulting explosion covered the aircraft wreckage by about 95%, with only the tips of the wings and the tail plane remaining uncovered. We were quite please with the success of the mission, as we had achieved what was intended. That being, to bury the aircraft, so as to prevent the further desecration of the site. As we left I said a small prayer for those whom had perished on that tragic day. I have never been back to the site. I do wonder if the small stream, over the years, which the plane had crashed into, caused any erosion to the rocks that covered the site.


I understand on the search for the DC3, the RNZAF, dispatched Bristol Freighters to the search area. Bob Davidson (who now lives in Tauranga) piloted the first. The cloud cover was too great and the mission was aborted. The second Bristol was piloted by Fl Lt. Woods, who sighted the wreckage? 


This page archived at Perma CC March  2017

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NZ SAS recall the 1963 Kaimai Air Disaster

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NZ SAS recall the 1963 Kaimai Air Disaster by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License