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Friday, January 09, 2009

Kyeema Air Disaster - Mt Corhanwarrabul

The 1938 Kyeema crash occurred near the summit of Mt Corhanwarrabul, on the western face of Mount Dandenong, Victoria, Australia, 35 km from the Melbourne CBD. 18 people were killed when the Kyeema, an Australian National Airways DC-2, VH-UYC crashed. The aircraft was in route to Melbourne from Adelaide.

The disaster is blamed on a combination of the presence of a heavy fog and the use of an outdated navigational practice which relied solely on landmarks to determine position. During the ensuing investigation, it was decided that the pilot believed he was descending for a landing at Essendon but was grossly off course causing him to crash into the mountain. While not the first fatal accident in Australian aviation history it was unique because it was the first aircraft in radio communication up to the time of impact.

Those killed in the tragedy included a parliamentarian, a party of barristers and solicitors, a group of wine industry executives, and a young couple on their honeymoon.

By Public demand a Royal Commission into the cause of the disaster was established, the Federal Government appointed an Air Accident Investigation Committee under the Chairmanship of Colonel T. Murdoch DSO, VCE with the public equiry commencing on October 30th, 1938. Because of the crash, regulations were passed which require Flight Checking Officers to monitor the flights of airplanes and advise on such things as position, weather, and alternate landing options. Also implementation of a 33MHz radio range system was recommended to provide pilots with accurate information on their course.

It was not until forty years after the crash, in 1978, that a memorial to the Kyeema and its eighteen passengers was created at the crash site.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, a new Memorial and Cairn were officially opened by the Victorian Government at a ceremony on October 25, 2008.

This public event, was hosted by the Lilydale squadron of the Australian Air League, the Mount Dandenong Historical Society and the Kalorama CFA, and included a flyover by a vintage DC3. The plane, a former Australian National Airways DC-3, VH-ABR Kanana is 70 years old and was restored for Australia’s bicentennial in 1988. It entered service only four days after the Kyeema tragedy. About 400 people attended the recent memorial, including descendants of crash victims.

There were ceremonies by a celebrant and indigenous elders and performances by the Victoria Police pipe band.

A new Information Board nearby contains several historical photographs about the Kyeema and the crash scene, and accounts of the tragedy.

Visitors to the Memorial are asked to observed a few minutes of silence.

I visited the crash site on January 8, 2009, which is about five minutes walk from a car park just off Ridge Rd. No trace of the wreckage remains. A new sign has been erected at the exact location of the crash impact, reached by a walking track down from the Memorial.

A high level walking trail, named the Kyeema Track, passes the Memorial.

The Track passes Bourke's Lookout and the TV towers, and continues westerly to the summit of Mt Corhanwarrabul, 628 m above sea level, next to Mt Dandenong.

The panoramas from the Lookout are outstanding, with amazing views across Melbourne to Port Phillip Bay, the You Yangs, the Macedon Ranges, and the Kinglake Ranges.

The return walk from the car park to Mt Corhanwarrabul is about 2 km return.

See the Photos of my visit

A graphic account of the crash disaster was published in Flight Safety magazine, which may be viewed at

The Melbourne Observer published an article on October 8, 2008, which may be viewed at

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