Painful Coolangatta plane crash memories 64 years on
IMAGINE witnessing a plane dropping from the sky like a stone and exploding into a fiery inferno.
Beryl Phippard of Tweed Heads doesn't have to imagine.
On March 10, 1949 a Lockheed Lodestar plane bound for Brisbane took flight from the Coolangatta Airstrip and reached a height of 90m before turning nose up, stalling and crashing down to Earth with 21 people onboard.
All 18 passengers and three crew died as a result of either the collision, or the fire that ensued for 25 minutes after the crash until Coolangatta fire fighters were able to extinguish the twisted fuselage.
Mrs Phippard was sweeping the front steps of her Auntie's house at Rutledge St, Coolangatta that day and was unlucky enough to witness the tragedy.
"I looked up and all of a sudden the plane dropped down out of the sky and burst into flames," she recalled.
"I knew there wouldn't be any survivors. I knew that nobody could've got out of it."
"Never to be forgotten."
Mrs Phippard had lived in the Tweed all of her life and at the time was amazed to see the giant metal masterpieces of human ingenuity take flight from Coolangatta's unfinished airstrip.
"There weren't many planes around back then, that's why I looked up when a plane left. I looked up and couldn't believe what unfolded," she said.
"The areas grown so much and people have moved on. The airport is nothing new to us now."
Long time local 84-year-old Peter Winter was working on the airstrip at the time for the Department of Works and Housing, but avoided the incident on the day.
"It was bad. There were little kids in there, it was a real tragedy," he said.
"I reckon the real hero was the fire chief from Coolangatta who stood on the wing and used a stirrup pump on the fire."
Crash investigations at the time pointed out that the plane was improperly loaded and an incorrect centre of gravity contributed to the crash.
"The report came through that it was badly loaded. They used to load them up any way so when he went up he was unbalanced and he went up and then down like a helicopter," Mr Winter said.
The planes elevator trim tab, which helped control pitch, was set for landing instead of takeoff and when combined the two crucial oversights would have made the plane uncontrollable.
At the time the plane crash was the worst civil aviation crash in Queensland's history and the second worst accident in Australia.