Sergeant Pilot Orme Denny was flying Australia’s first fighter air-craft, the SE-5a. His plane, A2-11, was the last of five of these aircraft that had left Point Cook for Canberra.
One crashed at Cootamundra after refueling; the other three collided when rehearsing for the opening ceremony.
Sergeant Denny flew with the photos, which were to be included in an album to be presented to the Duke of York, who performed the opening.
But while flying through a storm in the Mount Buffalo area, his engine seized. Sergeant Denny undid his seat belt and, failing to find a clearing, aimed his plane as near as possible at the treetops.
He was thrown clear and came to after about 31 minutes to see wings and bits of the tall up in the trees and the engine, cockpit and fuselage in one piece.
After sheltering for the night in a hollow leg, Sergeant Denny set out along a creek, which he followed downstream. On the way he had to ditch his heavy flying suit, wrapping the photographic plates in it and storing them in a log.
By evening he found a cattleman’s hut, and returned to Melbourne the next day. His wife, who had not been told he had been missing. Although he later returned to the area with three horsemen, Sergeant Denny could not find his plane or the photographs. One of the horsemen continued searching, however, and found the plane.
Then, 21 years ago, Mr. Keith Trotter of Mansfield was logging in the hills when his bulldozer blade hooked some wires.
A2-11 had been found again. Last year, Mr. Trotter led his former old logging boss, Mr. Alan McMillan, a RAAF pilot and an air-traffic controller to the rusting wreckage.
The engine block was taken out and Mr. McMillan got it to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook. Soon the last of the 15-year-old pieces of pipe, rusty wires, melted metal, some with wood embedded, a decaying fuel tank, aluminium, and other bits will also be in the museum.
Yesterday, Mr. Trotter, 12, who is now a barman, led a troop carrier with 34 cadets, almost all RAAF, on a 40-minute drive up steep logging roads from the Delatite River, within sight of Mount Buller. Four times Mr. McMillan, a local all his 35 years, had tried to find the wreckage and failed.
RAAF cadets nailed a brass plaque to a tree to mark the crash site.
Another party of cadets spread out to search, without success, for the flying suit and photos, while bits of steering chain and a metal plate, possibly from the propeller, were being uncovered. They were piled into a plastic crate and a bigger piece was hung from a branch to be carried out.
At the crash site, hidden among white gums and peppermints, the dimensions of Sergeant Denny’s escape, in the only direction where he could have found help, became clear.
Sergeant Denny, said Mr. Trotter, went on to a distinguished career with Qantas but had since died.
Mr. McMillan yesterday spoke of the RAAF’s expedition as a dream come true and one that finally showed that the feat of surviving the crash and then walking out was simply astonishing, a triumph of determination.