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Tribute to Kay Aubrey – STW News Secretary

Posted by ken On March - 12 - 2013

The Crash of MMA Flight 1750
A Tribute to Kay Aubrey – STW News Secretary

By Terry Spence – Former STW Channel 9 News Director

Among the parties getting underway on New Year’s Eve 1968 in Perth there was one in which were gathered a number of staff from the STW Channel 9 newsroom. As always on this last day of the year, the party was expected to go on at least until midnight when the New Year would be welcomed in.

There was, though, already a shadow cast over the evening with the knowledge that the next day would bring more details of a tragedy that had occurred earlier in the day – the crash of a MacRobertson Miller Airline’s aircraft just 50 kilometres short of its destination, Port Hedland. As reported in evening television news bulletins, none of the plane’s occupants had survived the crash. STW Channel 9 reporter David Gladwell was at the party but said he would be leaving early as he and a cameraman were scheduled to leave at dawn by charter aircraft to cover the story of the crash.

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There is no doubt that the crash would have been a topic of conversation at the party but little did the gathering know that before the end of the night they, personally, would be deeply touched by the tragedy. For David Gladwell and his cameraman it would a reporting assignment with the extra dimension of personal emotional involvement in the death of a former colleague.

Flight number 1750 – a Vickers Viscount – was nearing its flight north from Perth when it came down about 11.30 am on Indee sheep station. Its crash site was first sighted by a light aircraft quickly sent up to search for the plane when it failed to arrive at Port Hedland airport; a ground party reaching the wreckage about an hour later confirming there were no survivors.

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Viscount 720C aircraft VH-RMQ Crashed after an in-flight separation of the right wing near Port Hedland on 31st December 1968
(Photo © R.N. Smith Collection)

Twenty six people – 21 passengers and the crew of five – died in the crash. It was the name of one crew member which would make the tragedy a very personal one for the Channel 9 news staff at that New Year’s Eve party. It became known to them as the evening progressed. The crew member was Kay Aubrey – a trainee air hostess, her ground training completed, she was on her first familiarisation flight for MMA. Just a matter of weeks before she had been Channel 9‘s newsroom secretary.

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Kay Aubrey as a bridesmaid at Helen Mumme’s wedding

STW9 began broadcasting in June 1965. The fledging television station had begun with a relatively small staff – its newsroom, for instance, staffed by just a news editor, Graeme Walsh, two journalists, Mark (?) and Alan Macintosh (former Daily News, Perth, reporter); two cinecameramen, Ray Cox and Bill Nelson; one film editor, Geoff Wallace; and Kay Aubrey.

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Kay Aubrey as a bridesmaid
(Photo courtesy of Helen Mumme)

Kay would always be remembered with great affection by her fellow workers. Diminutive in stature, pretty and with the biggest, most beautiful brown eyes, she was sweet-natured and extremely good at her work. She had turned twenty-one years of age during her time at Channel 9 and a now expanded newsroom staff were delighted to be invited to the party her parents held to celebrate Kay’s majority having been reached.

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Jeff Newman, Alan Graham, Pat Newman, Eddie Townsend, Peter Harries, Veronica Overton and Keith Bales at Kay Aubrey’s 21st birthday party
(Photo courtesy of Peter Harries)

They were just as pleased for her when in 1968 she excitedly announced that she had been chosen to fly as an air hostess with MMA and would be leaving the station. Though the staff were very pleased for Kay at what promised to be an exciting career opening up for her, this was tinged, somewhat, with regret that they would be losing a much appreciated and well-liked workmate.

They could not know, of course, that this regret would be compounded to a much greater degree when they would learn so soon after she left Channel 9 that Kay had died in what remains to this day the third worst crash in Australian civil aviation history.

The crash of MMA’s Viscount received world-wide attention in civil aviation circles. The British-made, four-engined aircraft had been a very popular passenger plane and its makers had enjoyed big sales to the airlines of various nations. It was brought down when severe metal fatigue in its right wing main spar snapped; half the wing and one engine breaking away sending the plane plunging to the ground. Immediately after the accident and as investigations into the cause of the crash began, the Department of Civil Aviation temporarily grounded all Australian-registered Viscounts. This temporary grounding was eventually made permanent.

On a personal note, after the crash of Flight 1750 I was able to reflect on the mixed fortunes that are often at play during one’s lifetime. MMA had taken delivery of its Viscount in September 1968. It had been transferred from Ansett Airlines which by this time had become the owners of MacRobertson Miller Airlines.

Soon after its arrival in WA it made its first flight as a passenger-carrying aircraft. On that inaugural flight the airline invited a number of media representatives to go along and report on the extra speed, comfort and other innovations their recent acquisition offered passengers flying north.

I was one of those invited. I had previously flown north a number of times on MMA’s Fokker Friendship aircraft. Certainly, the Viscount as an alternative to the Friendship was superior in a number of ways and it was a very enjoyable flight.

It was following the Viscount’s crash that I had cause to reflect on how during that inaugural flight just some weeks before, the metal fatigue in the right wing’s main spar had been relentlessly edging closer towards ending the aircraft’s life. Obviously, for me, it was fortuitous, that I flew on the Viscount just weeks before its end and the death of much-respected member of the Channel 9 news team we all knew so well.

Terry Spence

Wish also to express our appreciation to Helen Mumme and June Holmes for their help locating photographs for this story.

5 Responses to “Tribute to Kay Aubrey – STW News Secretary”

  1. Sara Dennis says:

    Kay Aubrey was my great great aunt and the story of her passing has always been told in the family. It is so nice to finally put a face to the name and to see her fondly remembered.

  2. Kay Aubrey says:

    Kay was my cousin,(My mum was her aunt) I remember when this happened, I was 14years old at the time. We are in the UK and it was such a shock to us all. Kay’s father Doug, was my mums brother(My Mum was Vera Aubrey). It is so nice that she is still remembered not just by family but by others too.

    Thank you.

  3. Pam Miller says:

    Did she come from UK was her dad a milkman in UK. Did they live in Southall? In a prefab. If so we were best friends before they emigrated. I would so like to know. Thank you

  4. Elsa Evans says:

    Such a sad day for many people including my husbands family as his father was also on this flight ..

  5. Geoff Perkins says:

    In answer to Pam Miller’s question, yes, Kay was from England and they did live in Southall in a prefab. Kay was my cousin (her mum Dot was my aunt), but as she emigrated to Australia before I was born, I never knew her.

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