Sunday, September 30, 2012

My backyard 27 March 1976

I was nine years old. I loved watching planes and any aircraft as many boys do.
Saturday the 27 March 1976 I looked out of my back yard and watched a light plane reach into the sky from my backyard. It was a medium distance away from my eyesight climbing high into the sky. It was a beautiful day, clear skies, sunny.

A few seconds later it had turned into confetti and was raining down in tiny pieces from up on high. Some pieces fell down fast but many just sort of slowly twinkled down like when you shake a 'snow globe'. It was one of those slightly-life-altering experiences that I would have rather not witnessed .

A comment from one of my kids the other day ", have you ever seen a plane crash...", encouraged the idea to try and - relook at the situation as an adult -  and so after a little research, I found these on microfilm in the state library of South Australia:

tail of plane in a yard
the area above Belair where it came down (from Google maps Oct 2012)

The newspapers - initial views and comments (I've taken out his first name and addresses in case his family wouldn't want it on the 'net)

As with most traumatic events, it changes the way you see things and certainly had an affect on me. Interestingly, though, it never stopped me from flying and I still love to be in the air when I can.

inside stuff
This is me either in '76, or very close to that time. Take note of my beaver sized buck teeth that eventually got beaten into submission via two years of grey metal and rubber band braces and the slow emptying of my parents bank account.

< I was actually standing very close to that very spot in the photo when I saw the plane go down and though it is now a very long time ago, I can still vividly see in my minds eye the whole 'film' of the unfolding events. I had nightmares for a few years and also I guess would be called now mild 'post traumatic' stuff going on; that whenever I saw a plane go over, it would freak me out a little.

There was a distance of approximately five km's away from the event (see Google map below) and so it was not as horrific for me as it would have been for the poor people underneath, nevertheless, it was close enough for me on the clear day to see the action and hear the engine cut out and the 'thud' of the disintegration. I had a very clear view of it.

 When the plane blew up - and after standing there stunned for a few minutes watching - I ran over to the boys next door who were playing cricket, pointed at the spot and stuttered what I had seen and they wouldn't believe me 'yeah, sure thing' (they obviously weren't interested in the eccentric views of a skinny twerp next door), so I  ran inside and grabbed my parents- who did believe me - and they came out and saw the spot, though by then there was just a little puff of smoke left in the sky. I remember then grabbing my bike and riding around letting it all sink in. The sun was bright but it all felt very dark.

some resolution
I'm a person who really likes resolution. It occurred to me only other day that  it may be possible to find the final resting place of the pilot and go and visit...if he was buried in Adelaide.  After a little 'net search, I discovered that he indeed is actually buried locally. I had done this once before when I discovered that Ross Smith (first to fly from London to Adelaide) was buried nearby to where I had lived and went for a visit. I still like planes as you can tell.

I thought this would be a positive act, to help 'earth' my memory a little more.
I had seen a person die in a catastrophic way (though I was far enough away not to be aware - which one - of the pieces falling was actually the pilot) - so it was only fitting that I could pay a visit to his grave and pay my respects.

As it turned out, on 2 Oct 2012; my wife and I were near the cemetery for another matter and so we were able to drive in and pay him a visit. It was actually really beautiful and peaceful there:

Tim O next to Mr Williams cremation grave (photo by K.Oestmann)

 (I'm leaving out his first name 'cause I don't know if his family would want it all out there)(photo Tim O)
It struck me how ...for such a public/massive/ visually catastrophic end to his life.... ..when I finally 'meet' him ...that his grave is very humble and very simple. Very quiet. I actually liked it.

Official Report
For the tech heads among you here is the official report. I found it interesting - and matched what I saw.

You'll find the official report here:

Thanks for reading this - though it is a sad story and I feel for his then wife, family and friends; the re-visiting of it has actually been a positive and healthy exercise for me personally. 

Feel free to comment or email me if you have any feedback. Thanks for reading.


Tim Oestmann
3 October 2012