Thursday, April 25, 2024

50th anniversary of RAAF Caribou crash in PNG

A commemorative event has been held in Papua New Guinea to honour the 25 Papua New Guineans and Australians who lost their lives in a tragic Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Caribou crash 50 years ago.

On 28 August 1972, RAAF Caribou aircraft A4-233 took off from Lau heading to Port Moresby. The flight was part of Australia’s partnership with Papua New Guinea and was a way to provide assistance by reuniting young men with their families after the completion of a Papua New Guinean cadet training camp.

While flying through the Kudjeru Gap, the pilot became concerned that low cloud was going to shroud his vision of the valley ahead and decided to turn around. Unfortunately, the aircraft struck trees and crashed. Most on board died instantly.

Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman, AM, CSC, was in attendance at the event to pay his respects on behalf of the Australian Defence Force.

“Today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the loss of the RAAF’s Caribou aircraft A4-233,” AIRMSHL Chipman said.

“As we remember this tragic event, we reflect on the longstanding bonds between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The site of the crash.

“Onboard Caribou A4-233 were 25 Army cadets from De La Salle College and Popondetta High School. Aged between 16 and 18, these fine young men were considering honourable military careers in the service of their nation. Twenty one had bright and promising futures which were tragically cut short by this accident.

“Also on the aircraft were three aviators from the RAAF and a liaison officer from the Australian Army. Like their passengers these young Australians were serving their nation in uniform.”

AIRMSHL Chipman said that like many attending the ceremony today, he had a personal connection to those lost in the tragic accident.  

“My father was also flying Caribous at Number 35 Squadron in 1972,” AIRMSHL Chipman said.

“We lived in a house in Port Moresby during the months when he flew around the highlands and he was great mates with Graham, the aircraft captain. They joined the RAAF Academy together, learnt to fly Caribous on the same course, and played sport together.

25 PNG cadets were killed in the 1972 crash.

“My younger brother is named Antony Graham, in honour of their friendship.

“Today let us remember the 25 Papuan and Australians we lost, our shared sadness and the families who lost sons, brothers and friends in the crash.”

A RAAF C-27J Spartan from No. 35 Squadron conducted a flypast over the commemorative event, paying their respects to the fallen.

Patrick Gau GM was one of few survivors of the 1972 RAAF Caribou crash in the PNG mountains.

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