Sunken wheel rekindles 1940s Straddie aircraft mystery

The port wing and wheel of the Douglas Dakota aircraft, which crashed off North Stradbroke Island in 1947.  
Photo courtesy of David Bell/Royal Australian Air Force
The port wing and wheel of the Douglas Dakota aircraft, which crashed off North Stradbroke Island in 1947. Photo courtesy of David Bell/Royal Australian Air Force

While fishing off the coast of North Stradbroke Island before Easter, Bob Jones, of Thornlands, was surprised to see what appeared to be an aircraft wheel deep beneath him.

His curiosity has illuminated a six decade mystery lying beneath the azure waters surrounding the island.

The wheel almost certainly belongs to a Dutch air force plane that crashed about two kilometres off Point Lookout in late February, 1947.

The Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force Douglas Dakota caught fire and crashed into the ocean about 23 minutes into a test flight from Archerfield, killing all six people - three Dutch servicemen and three Australian crew members - onboard.

The port wing and undercarriage were discovered in the days after the crash and moved to relatively shallow water to the west of Shag Rock; a spot well known to local fishers today.

Mr Jones believes this is what he saw on his fishing trip.

But the fuselage, including the bodies of the crew, hasn't been located since a diver spotted it in 25 metres of water about a fortnight after the crash.

RAAF Flight Sergeant David Bell, who runs the Amberley base's scuba diving club, has been part of the search for the wreck for several years.

He said divers had made little progress in finding the fuselage, but neither the RAAF nor the Dutch government were actively searching for it.

An article from the February 27, 1947 edition of The Courier-Mail quoted police who said the plane crash landed in 60 feet (18 metres) of water.

Rough weather and seas made the search for and recovery of the wreck even more difficult, with the author of an air safety incident report to note that "no decision had been made whether to try and raise the wreck" by March 5, more than a week after the crash landing.

"I consider that there is little of hope of this being done within a reasonable time, if it is attempted at all," the report read.

Any future search is unlikely to attract the fanfare of the discovery of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur off the coast of North Stradbroke Island in 2009.

The plane's location would not qualify as a Commonwealth War Grave, owing to its demise having occurred in peacetime, nor would it qualify for protection under the Historic Shipwrecks Act as it is not yet 75 years' old.

However, a memorial is being planned at Adder Rock for the 70th anniversary of the crash in early 2017.

For now, the mystery of the plane and its passengers' final resting place remains unsolved.

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