Event review: Canberra’s deadliest air disaster re-examined

Thank you to Melissa Snape, Secretary of the ACT branch, for providing this event review.

With the 73rd memorial of the Canberra Air Disaster fresh in the minds of those who attended the crash site at Fairbairn Pine Plantation (near the Canberra Airport) just a day before, the ASC-ACT branch brought in the experts to delve into the mystery surrounding this historic episode – with a bit of a science twist.

The sell-out National Science Week event was held in the Japan Theatre at Questacon on August 14 and gathered a diverse crowd of local eye witnesses, aeronautical enthusiasts, relatives of the deceased and detectives at heart – and thrilled them all with never-before-seen in public footage of the wreckage (filmed within hours of the crash), a lesson in state-of-the-art forensic techniques by Mardi Southwell (AFP Forensic Science Team) and an in depth interview with Mr Andrew Tink, local expert and author of ‘Air Disaster Canberra: the plane crash that destroyed a government’.

A close re-examination of the fatal event, which killed ten people in total (including 3 war time government ministers), uncovered evidence indicating that Air Minister Fairbairn (and not the experienced RAAF pilot Bob Hitchcock) may have been flying the plane when it met its fiery destiny. Tales were also told of the charred bodies of victims being misidentified as smouldering stumps and improper collection and documentation of evidence resulting in the true nature of the tragedy being shroud in mystery forever.

To add our science twist, Mardi then gave a fantastic presentation briefing the audience about how forensic scientists in 2013 would approach such a scenario and what techniques are available to us now that were not in 1940.

The evening was rounded off by competitions for prizes (including two signed copies of Andrew’s book), a bite to eat and a glass or two to drink – all on the house. We only hope that those attending had as much fun as we did hosting.

Want to see what we go up to?

  • Short video clip produced by Alex Harrod (played at the event) – click here
  • Photos of our event taken by David Wong – click here

We also had a massive amount of local media attention surrounding the event including TV, print and radio interviews. Also, two days after our event the ABCs 7.30 report even got on the band wagon and did a story about the Canberra Air Disaster- see the link here which mentions our society.

The ASC ACT Branch would like to thank those who helped make the event a major success:

  • ACT Branch of the Australian New Zealand Forensic Society
  • Questacon
  • Inspiring Australia
  • ACT National Science Week committee
  • ACT Government

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