52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

52 Ancestors #10 Anthony William Smith

This week’s topic is “stormy weather”.  When thinking of stormy weather in Australia, we don’t think of blizzards and tornados (in fact, we get very little snow at all).  In fact, we don’t really think so much of stormy weather, but of extreme weather – droughts, floods, bush fires – but we do get an equivalent of tornados: cyclones.

On Christmas Eve to Christmas Day 1974, Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin.  For further details about Cyclone Tracy, you can visit the Cyclone Tracy website.

There was one member of my husband’s family who was in Darwin at the time of the cyclone, Anthony William Smith, and I remember the family story of how the house he had been in was destroyed, and rescue workers had thought that no one would have survived, until Tony popped up out of the bath that he had taken shelter in.

Tony survived the cyclone, but died 7 years later, in 1981, when a light plane he was flying in crashed in the Simpson Desert in the Northern Territory.

Anthony William Smith was born 12 April 1953 at the Kerang Bush Nursing Hospital.   Tony was the grandson of an ancestor on my husband’s side of the family – Thomas Mansfield Smith.  He died 29 August 1981.

The following is from The Sun, Tuesday 1 September 1981.

Plane wreck ‘a real mess’.

Police investigating the crash of a Victorian light plane in the Simpson Desert said yesterday the wreckage had disintegrated over a 1.5 km area. They said the Piper Cherokee Six hit the ground with such force that all that was left were part of the wings, the fuselage and tail.

“It must have plummeted straight to the ground – it was a real mess,” said Senr Constable Frank Gibson of Alice Springs police.

He said sections of the wings were found more than 400 metres apart.

The four Victorians killed in Saturday night’s crash were the Melbourne pilot Phillip Vorbach, Melbourne businessman Jack McCracken, and Kerang farmers Tony Smith and Don Morton.

The men were on their way to the Gulf of Carpentaria for a fishing holiday when their single-engine plane lost radio contact about 100 km south of Alice Springs.

Despite an intensive air search on Sunday, the wreckage was spotted only yesterday at 9.15 a.m. when a RAAF Orion directed a police ground party to the area.

A Transport Australia spokesman said the plane, operated by the Peninsula Aero Club of Tyabb, was on the edge of the Simpson Desert, 185 km south-east of Alice Springs.

A Transport Australia investigation team went to the scene yesterday but a report on the crash is not expected for several months.

Officials had been unsure as to how many people were in the plane, but Alice Springs police said only four bodies had been recovered.

Mr Reg Vorbach, a Vic Rail employee, said his son, 27, had held a pilot’s licence for five years and had told him the Cherokee was a “safe and good plane”.

“They must have hit the ground pretty hard and the fact that it was night wouldn’t have helped”.