It was a summer day in the early 1980’s and I was working for Stock and Land Newspaper.
The previous day I’d flown my immediate boss, his wife and teenage daughter, from Benalla to Bathurst to look at and do a story on some agricultural enterprise with Murray Grey cattle as the centre piece. We’d refuelled at Bathurst to the extent that I filled the fuel tanks and we flew into a mountain top resort airstrip above Mittagong and about 1000 metres above sea level.
I can’t remember what we did there, but in the late afternoon we taxied to the far end of the not very long runway – I knew we were fairly heavy – stood on the breaks and opened the throttle.
Unfortunately, because the day was warm and the altitude high, the air was less dense than it would have been further down the mountain. The aeroplane did not accelerate as nimbly as it should have done, although I had an inkling of the problem because of the weather before we took off.
I managed to lift the plane into the air, but then we sank through the top of a dead gum tree.
Fortunately, just beyond that the ground fell away sharply and we were able to pick up almost normal flying sepped although there were some serious indentations in the front of the wing.
At the same time, it was obvious that the tree had ruptured at least one of the wing fuel tanks because there was a stream of fuel in the airstream, in much the same fashion as war movies tend to show a troubled aeroplane.
I could have returned to the airstrip we had departed from, but because it would have been difficult to repair the damage, chose to fly on to Goulburn about 20 minutes flying to the west. This decision was not helped by a teenager who seemed to be convinced we were doomed and screamed all the way to Goulburn.
Fortunately we were able to land safely, tie the aeroplane down, advise the Civil Aviation Authority and the Eildon owner of the aeroplane of the damage, hire a car and drive back to Benalla, where I bailed out and the other three proceeded to Melbourne.
Obviously it was very traumatic for all of us, but after doing the due reporting, I was quite keen to forget the whole thing.
Unfortunately the Goulburn Newspaper picked up the story and a school friend of my cousin, who lives near there, sent him the cutting. That meant the story was out in the wider family – which is where I hoped it would stop.
However the following week I went to a Farm Writers and Broadcasters Society monthly meeting in Melbourne and there was my boss passing round photos of the damaged plane to an intrigued audience. To give him his due he did look slightly embarrassed. The cat was well and truly out of the bag.
Much later I wrote up the particulars of my stupidity for the Aviation Safety Digest (aka Crash Comics). They were kind enough to publish with ‘Anonymous’ as the writer.