On this day: trans-Tasman flight disappears

By Marina Kamenev 8 November 2013
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Prior to Kingsford Smith’s successful flight over the Tasman, Moncrief and Hood’s attempt ended in disaster.

ON 10 JANUARY, 1928, Lieutenant John Moncrieff and Captain George Hood took off on their disastrous flight across the Tasman. The two New Zealanders were attempting the first to flight across the stretch of water between Australia and New Zealand, but they never reached their destination.

Both men were keen aviators; George, 37, who had lost part of his right leg in a plane crash in World War I, served in the Territorial Air Force Reserve. John, who was five years his junior, was a member of the New Zealand Air Force during the war. He joined the Territorial Air Force Reserve in 1919, which was where the two men met.

In 1927 John proposed flying from Sydney to Wellington. His suggestion came after several successful ocean crossings by other aviators, the most notable of which was Charles Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris, in a single-engine Ryan monoplane.

“Lindbergh was probably the most famous man on earth at the time,” says Robert Lee an Associate Professor of History at the University of Western Sydney. “He was an inspiration to everyone.”

The pair were obviously influenced by him, as by the end of the year they had managed to acquire a Ryan monoplane. They named it Aotearoa, which meant ‘land of the long white cloud’ in Maori – a common name for New Zealand. On the 23, December 1927, they announced their intention to fly 2,300 kilometers across the Tasman.

“It was dangerous. The technology existed, but it wasn’t refined,” says Robert. Flying over water was particularly hazardous. “If an engine fails over land you can bring it down on a beach or a football field, but on water there is no way out.”

The pair left Sydney in the early hours of the morning on 10 January, 1928. By 6 p.m. a crowd of 10,000 had gathered in Trentham racecourse in Wellington, where they were supposed to land. Laura Hood and Dorothy Moncrieff, the wives of the two men, were among those waiting, but there was no sign of the plane.

The risk they took never paid off. Eyewitness reports suggested the plane made it on land, but crashed shortly before reaching the destination. Others said they saw the plane crash in the Marlborough Sounds area. Wreckage from the crash had never been found.

Just nine months later in September 1928 Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm became the first men to fly across the Tasman. Around 250 kilometers before they reached their destination they dropped a wreath into the Tasman in memory of the New Zealand pilots.

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