Arduous trek to visit site of F-111 crash

Comradeship and camaraderie of the absolute highest order was on display as a group of family and close friends of two legendary aviators, accompanied by a number of currently serving “royal Australian Air Force members, trekked to a remote crash site to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a terrible loss.

CAPTIONRoyal Australian Air Force Wing Commander David Riddel and Mark Johnson clean the memorial plaque at the crash site of F-111G A8-291, in Pulau Aur, Malaysia. Story by Flight Lieutenant Rob Hodgson. Photos by Leading Aircraftman Kurt Lewis.

Twenty-five years ago, the Royal Australian Air Force lost two of its most highly respected and universally liked aviators when A8-291 – the F-111G aircraft they were flying – crashed on exercise in Malaysia.

On the night of 19 April 1999, Squadron Leader Anthony ‘Shorty’ Short and Squadron Leader Stephen ‘Nige’ Hobbs, of 6 Squadron, were leading a two-ship maritime strike against the British Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy and Republic of Singapore warships during a Five Power Defence Agreement Exercise.

Sadly, due to a tragic set of circumstances, their aircraft impacted Pulau Aur, a mountainous and densely forested island in the South China Sea.

A year after the crash, a small party that included friends and family – many of them 6 Squadron mates – travelled to Palau Aur to erect two memorials, one at the crash site and one at the local school.

CAPTIONAviators salute the late Squadron Leaders Anthony Short and Stephen Hobbs as the Last Post is played during a memorial service.

The memorial at the crash site can only be reached by undertaking an arduous three-hour uphill trek through a mountainous landscape that is thickly jungled.

Over the years the crash site memorial has been visited only a small number of times by comrades and family who share an unspoken duty to never forget Shorty and Nige.

For the 25th anniversary, with the support of the Royal Australian Air Force, aviators from 6 Squadron, 19 Squadron and Headquarters 82 Wing accompanied family and friends to Palau Aur to reflect, commemorate and share yarns about Shorty and Nige.

The torturous trek up through the jungle to the crash site and sombre, though life-affirming, ceremony held there would be an experience none of the participants will forget.

Air Vice Marshal Geoffrey Harland, a close friend of the lost aviators having flown with them at 6 Squadron, was one of those to make the trip.

“While it has been 25 years since we lost Shorty and Nige, they continue to be held in high regard and it is usual at get-togethers for stories of their exploits to be told and retold,” Air Vice Marshall Harland said.

“They have not been forgotten and this chance to hold a memorial 25 years on is significant and important to the families and Royal Australian Air Force community.

“We are grateful for the support of Chief of Air Force and Air Commander Australia to make this happen.

“It is also important to shine a light on the grace and strength of Shorty and Nige’s families.

“Despite the tragedy on the night of 19 April 1999, their families have flourished and children are exceptionally successful by any measure.

“This is a testament to their mothers, Kim and Saskia, who have always remained inspirational in the face of terrible loss.”

An outcome of the accident inquiry was the implementation of significant changes to risk-management procedures ADF-wide, including the introduction of a formal risk-management process for all operations.

This outcome from a terrible tragedy serves a lasting legacy to two of our best – Squadron Leader Short and Squadron Leader Hobbs.

CAPTIONAviators, friends and family at the crash site memorial plaque of F-111G A8-291, in honour of the late Squadron Leaders Anthony Short and Stephen Hobbs.

 

 

The above report originally contained zero appropriate references to “Royal Australian”  – an ‘error’ corrected by CONTACT. See here why we think this matters.


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