CRASH OF A WIRRAWAY
NEAR HAZELBROOK
IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, NSW
ON 1 AUGUST 1940

 

Wirraway A20-17 from 22 Squadron RAAF based at Richmond in New South Wales crashed into the bush near Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains at 10.38 am on the 1 August 1940. The Wirraway crashed into the tops of some trees and hit a ridge starting a bush fire. The aircraft had engine trouble in the foggy conditions. It was one of two Wirraways on a training flight from RAAF Richmond. The wreckage is still recognisable at the crash site.

Mary Campbell said that when she led one of the search parties out to the site, they found Sgt. Vincent Charles Monterola's body thrown about 20m from the crash site lying next to some large rocks. The Flying Officer Harry Hopgood's body was trapped in the burnt wreckage.

 


Photo:- Ken Fulham

Part of the centre wing spar of the Wirraway in August 2004.
It has since been removed from site by persons unknown.

 

The Wirraway was flown by Flying Officer Harry Thomas Hopgood. It is believed he was a relative of the Hopgood who flew with the dambusters. Sgt Vincent Charles Monterola was his Observer on this flight. Both men were killed in this crash.

 


Photo:- via Ken Fulham

Flying Officer Harry Thomas Hopgood standing on the wing

 


Photo:- via Simon Monterola

Sgt. Vincent Charles Monterola
at Richmond in about 1940

 

Simon Monterola's grandfather, Sgt. Vincent Monterola, was one of the two killed in the crash. Simon and his father researched the Wirraway crash back in the early 1980s and ended up visiting the crash site in about 1983. The best source that they had available to them at the time was the Sydney Morning Herald article of the following day. The article mentioned a local scout leader who led a search party to the crash site. Simon said that they happened to track her down in 1983, and her and her friend took Simon and his father to the crash site, which they have photographs of. Simon advised that the proximity of the crash site is marked on topographical maps as “Aircraft Hill”.

 


Photo:- Ken Fulham

Some of the remaining pipe framework from the fuselage in August 2004

 


Photo:- Ken Fulham

Photo taken in August 2004 from the spot where the centre wing spar
was and looking back up to the ridge that the Wirraway must have
crashed over and then towards the camera position.

 

Simon Monterola and his wife visited the crash site again on 31 July 2005, the day before the 65th anniversary of the accident, and placed some flowers on the site. This was the first time that Simon had been there since they first found the site in 1983.  Mary Campbell, the young Scout mistress who was one of the first on the crash scene on 1 August 1940 was the lady who took Simon to the site in 1983.

 


Photo:- Simon Monterola

Track near the crash site

 

The following photos were provided by Simon Monterola


 
Some small fragments of aluminium
Some triangular framework
Some more framework

 


Photo:- Simon Monterola

Looking back towards Hazelbrook

 


Photo:- Simon Monterola

Simon Monterola's grandfather’s name inscribed on the wall at the
Australian War Memorial in Canberra taken on ANZAC Day last year.

 

Ken Fulham's father-in-law Jim Hopgood is the brother of the pilot Harry Hopgood. Ken contacted me on 28 April 2005. He was keen to know directions to the site so that he could take Jim Hopgood to the site. Jim was a young boy at the time that his brother was killed in this crash.

The ravages of time, souvenir hunters and bushfires have taken their toll on the crash site. In August 2004, about all that was left of the aircraft wreck was a jagged piece of the centre wing section adjacent to the main spar about 2.7m long, 1m wide and 0.3m high. There were also other small pieces of wreckage scattered around the location.

Brian Fox has visited the crash site a couple of times and has also spoken to the first people to visit the crash site. The first person to reach the site was Hazelbrook resident Norman Campbell. He had heard the faulty engine and the crash. He directed Police to the site. His sister Mary also visited the site

Barry Roberts has visited the crash site and advised as follows on 11 April 2001:-

"The remaining evidence of the wreck is in a quadrant on the southern side of Hazelbrook bounded by the wreck , Hazelbrook, and Lawson. There was not a lot left ten years ago when I last visited the site.  The Hazelbrook Historical Society published a book a few years ago mentioning the wreck and the two airman killed in it.  I believe a long time resident. Mr Bill Hewson of Glendarra Street, Hazelbrook may be able to give you further details on where and if any evidence remains besides sheared off Eucalypts."

Phillip Hastings' father was the Ranger responsible for this area for many many years. Phillip has always been aware of the crash site. He first visited the locality of the crash in the early 1970's. He was only there for a short time, and only managed to locate a few small melted aluminium parts. Phillip said that it appeared that they missed flying over the crest of the hill by only a few metres. He said that bushfires have ravaged the wreck site over the years. Phillip indicated it used to be possible to drive almost to the site until National Parks placed a locked gate at the start of the track.

As an adult Phillip Hastings visited the site two or three times more and located large sections of wings and fuselage and an engine cylinder, which he has a few photographs of still. A fellow school student of Phillip's from Katoomba High school was rumoured to have the Perspex canopy as a souvenir in his back yard in 1980. Phillip believes the pilot's seat may still be in someone's shed at Leura. Philip indicated that he had mentioned the crash site from time to time to other enthusiasts but had many people had doubted its existence until he found my website.

Rob Stagg has always been curious regarding this accident since being told about it in the mid '70s. At that time (he was in his early 20s) he was a member of the Hazelbrook Bush Fire Brigade. One of the long standing members, a Mr Bill Hewson, related the story to the group. Rob believes that Bill may have been in the party that went to recover the bodies. Bill Hewson was still alive in December 2003, and well into his 90s.

Rob Stagg advised as follows:-

"Apparently the aircraft caught fire on impact - as to whether the crew died on impact or as a result of the fire I don't know. Bill took a small party of brigade members to the crash site and at the time there were alloy aircraft components in near perfect condition - even serial numbers could be read. One of the seats were still at the scene - many of the large trees had their crowns sheared off. I have always meant to return to the site and take photographic records of what is still there. If I ever get the opportunity I would be happy to send you copies of the photos if you wish."

I was contacted by Roslyn Hewson, daughter of Bill Hewson on 2 January 2009. Her 94 year old father passed on to me that he was not one of the first at the site but that he has visited the site several times. He believes Harley James was the first at the site but unfortunately Harley has passed away.

REFERENCES

"Upper Blue Mountains Geographical Encyclopaedia" 2nd edition.
by Brian Fox

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Sam Mollenhauer, Andrew Turner, Brian Fox, Simon Monterola, Barry Roberts, Phillip Hastings, Robert Marsh, Morgan Pettit, Ken Fulham and Dennis Graham for their assistance with the information on this crash.

I'd like to thank Bill Hewson and his daughter Roslyn Hewson for their assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

I need your help

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©  Peter Dunn 2015

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This page last updated 31 August 2015