Where possible, the number shown in the PAX column does not include operating crew. However, it is possible that some of the numbers recorded are inclusive of crew i.e. POB (Persons On Board).


This flight is proving to be something of an enigma. All available evidence indicates that the aircraft operated SYD-BNE-SYD and the 247 pax were boarded in Brisbane! This poses three questions.
1. How did the pax get from DRW to BNE?
2. Why were they loaded at BNE in emergency conditions? (i.e. doubling up in seats and seating pax in the aisles)
3. Why were they sent to BNE if they were destined for SYD?


Maj Gen Stretton records in his book (Source: 18) that he set out from Canberra in an RAAF BAC111 to pick up Dr Rex Patterson, the Minister for the Northern Territory, in Mackay before proceeding to Darwin. En route Mackay it was realised that they could not arrive in Darwin before last light so they called up a following C-130 Hercules and arranged to meet in Mount Isa where Stretton and his party transferred to the C-130 which was commanded by SQN LDR W.M. Fewster. Also from Source 38, Hercules A97-168 was carrying an RAAF surgical team comprising 1 surgeon, 1 anaesthetist, 2 medical officers, 2 nurses and 2 orderlies. The Hercules also carried medical supplies and a press party. The BAC1-11 was carrying a civilian surgical team comprising 3 surgeons, 1 anaesthetist, 1 registrar and 3 nurses. This aircraft also carried medical supplies and one ABC cameraman. The BAC1-11 departed RAAF Fairbairn, Canberra at 1530. Although source 38 states that it was SQNLDR Fewster's idea to rendezvous in Mt Isa, Source 65 states that it was a political decision by Dr Patterson.


RAAF News records the following statistics:

The Air Force’s transport squadrons worked tirelessly to bring in supplies and evacuate residents from Dec 26, 1974, to Jan 4, 1975.

36SQN’s (C-130A) contribution: 8 aircraft, 554 flying hours, carried 2864 passengers and 793,000lb freight

37SQN’s (C-130E) contribution: 11 aircraft, 700 flying hours, carried 4400 passengers and 1.3 million lb freight

In one day, 19 Hercs from the two squadrons made a total of 44 flights into Darwin.


(Log books rarely record pax loads on RAAF C-130s ex DRW but they were generally in the range 120 - 140)


When the first elements of the Royal Australian Navy fleet sailed from Sydney on 26 December, approximately 50 per cent of all Sydney-based ships’ companies were on annual leave, with many interstate. Of the 2700 personnel on leave, 2200 were able to return to their ships prior to sailing, and others subsequently managed to join their ships in Townsville.

Apparently skipped in error! (Ed.)

Aircraft histories indicate that the Connair fleet included four DC-3s at this time - VH-EWE, VH-MIN, VH-PWM and VH-UPQ. Of these, VH-UPQ was registered to Connair on 25 October 1974. According to Trevor Dean of the Australian Aviation Museum at Bankstown (the current owners of VH-UPQ) the aircraft was subsequently ferried from Woomera to Alice Springs by Captain D. Gillespie and First Officer 'Slim' Rosier. John Myers, who was a DC-3 pilot with Connair at the time, believes that VH-UPQ would have been undergoing a pre-service overhaul in Alice Springs at the time of Cyclone Tracy. Therefore, it would appear that the three DC-3s that were evacuated to Katherine before the cyclone were VH-EWE, VH-MIN and VH-PWM. During 1974, Connair were operating DC-3 VH-MMA on lease from Air Niugini but this lease terminated in October 1974.

Graham Ham was a Senior Traffic Officer with Connair in Darwin at the time of Cyclone Tracy. He confirms that the three DC-3s in service at the time were indeed VH-EWE, VH-MIN and VH-PWM.


The Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service (NTAMS) normally had three de Havilland Doves based in Darwin, one in Gove and one in Alice Springs. On 24DEC74 the Gove-based aircraft VH-DHE carried a patient to Darwin through deteriorating weather. Consequently it was decided that VH-DHE would remain overnight in Darwin where it joined the three other Doves (DHH, DHN & DHA) in the Darwin hangar. Dove VH-DHD was based in Alice Springs and VH-DHK was at Bankstown for a major inspection. When Cyclone Tracy struck Darwin, the doors of the NTAMS hangar were blown in and the four Doves inside were all damaged. Although all were eventually repaired and returned to service, in the immediate aftermath of Tracy, the NTAMS were left with only one aircraft, VH-DHD which had been in Alice Springs. (It had been decided in October 1974 that the NTAMS Doves would be replaced by the GAF Nomad 24 which were due to be delivered in the second half of 1975. In the event, the first Nomad did not go into service until November 1977). As an interim measure to cover the repair of the Doves and the late delivery of the Nomads, two TAA Twin Otters were provided. These aircraft (VH-TGF & VH-TGG) operated in full TAA livery. It transpired that the Twin Otters were to remain with the NTAMS until 1977. They were delivered to the following schedule:

VH-TGF: Dep BNE 1820. 29DEC74 to CTL-CNJ-TCA-(30DEC)-ASP-TCS-KTR-DRW (Eventually arriving DRW on 31DEC).

TAA Captain Stuart Spenceley was involved in training NTAMS pilots on the Twin Otter. "I went up to Darwin on 10JAN75 and did local training (circuits with engine failures and various configuration landings such as flapless and night flying) to convert the chief pilot of the NTAMS to the Twin Otter so that he could convert the other pilots. We also did a medical flight to Port Keates to give him some exposure to line flying. I came home on 16JAN75. Several years later, on 2/3JAN78 I ferried one of the Twin Otters from Darwin to Mackay as the NTAMS were receiving their Nomads."

Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service, Warwick Henry, Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol. 26 No. 3.
Replacing the NTAMS Doves, Mike Flanagan, Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, Vol. 37 No. 4.
Captain Stuart Spenceley, log book and correspondence.


Second Starlifter joins Darwin airlift: (The Australian Financial Review, Thursday January 2, 1975)
"A second United States Air Force C-141 Starlifter has joined the Darwin airlift, augmenting the C-141 which was in the country when the cyclone emergency began. The US Government sent the second Starlifter from its Californian base as aid to the Australian effort. It has been said that a third aircraft, the one that operates the normal weekly US shuttle to service installations in Australia, would be available if required.

[... deleted general description of the C-141 ...]

"The first aircraft made available - the Christmas week shuttle - made three Darwin relief flights. On its first it carried 44,000 lb of equipment to the wrecked city and returned with 194 evacuees. Its second flight lifted 40,000 lb and returned with 233 refugees and the third took up 41,000 lb and returned with 320 passengers. The second aircraft then took over and carried a 38,000 lb load to Darwin returning with 205 passengers. All three aircraft were standing by last night. Each of the jets carried an augmented crew, allowing longer time in the air than normal flight time limitations would permit. They also carried two Australian nursing sisters on each flight. Some of the passengers were stretcher cases. The walking passengers, however, were carried in troop-type canvas seating, which normally is rigged for 140 armed men. Many of the evacuees were children, however, who could be nursed. The crews improvised additional seating from empty cargo pallets fastened down to the floor and fitted with safety belts for security." (Copy from the personal papers of Air Commodore David Hitchins, with thanks to his family).


An order was issued on 27 December for a Canberra from No. 2 Sqn RAAF to fly a photo survey of DRW after the cyclone. Maj-Gen Stretton records that the results were disappointing because of a camera malfunction, requiring the mission to be reflown. (Sources: 18 & 38)

Canberra A84-233 flew the Darwin photo mission from Cairns on 29 December 74 having positioned from Amberley the previous day. During the flight from Cairns to Darwin the port engine flamed out but was successfully relit. After the photographic mission the aircraft returned to Amberley via Cairns. Pilot was FLTLT J.M. Williamson and the Navigator was FLGOFF M. Phillips. The mission was repeated on 1-3 Jan 75 again in A84-233, with Pilot FLTLT G.N. Carter and Navigator SQNLDR A.D. Kirby. The January flights operated Amberley-Darwin-Amberley. (Source: 46)