Connellan air disaster

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Connellan air disaster
Beechcraft Baron 58
A Beechcraft Baron 58 similar to that used in the attack
Location Alice Springs Airport
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Coordinates 23°48′13″S 133°54′12″E / 23.80361°S 133.90333°E / -23.80361; 133.90333
Date 5 January 1977
approx. 10.30am local (UTC+9:30)
Target Connellan Airways building
Attack type
Suicide attack, Deliberate crash: Suicide by co-pilot
Weapons Fixed-wing aircraft
Deaths 5 (including perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
4
Perpetrator Colin Richard Forman

The Connellan air disaster was a suicide attack at Alice Springs Airport, Northern Territory, Australia, on 5 January 1977.

The attack was carried out by a disgruntled former employee of Connellan Airways (Connair), who flew a Beechcraft Baron (a twin-engine, piston-powered plane) into the Connair complex at the airport. The attack killed the pilot and four other people and injured four more, two of them seriously.[1] The disaster is one of only two aircraft suicide attacks in Australia's history, the other being in 1982 at Bankstown Airport.[2][3]

Background[edit]

The perpetrator, Colin Richard Forman, was 23-years-old at the time of the attack.[1] He had migrated from the United Kingdom to Australia alone in the early 1970s, but had trouble adjusting and, in 1974, tried to forge a Qantas ticket back to England. The forged ticket was detected and Forman had a conviction recorded against him.[1]

In November 1975, Forman obtained a commercial pilot's licence, and he started flying for Connair in January 1976.[1] The ticket forgery soon came to light and Forman was dismissed after seven weeks. He then found another job at Ord Air Charter in Wyndham, but was soon fired from there as well. Forman apparently believed that Roger Connellan, his boss at Connair, had informed Ord Air about his forgery conviction.[4]

In late 1976, Forman was living in Mount Isa, Queensland, eking out a living flying occasional single-engine (Cessna) charter flights for freight and tourists and where he was a member of the Mount Isa Aero Club. In about October 1976, he told a fellow member and local North West Star journalist "If I don't get a job by Christmas then you will get to know and through you most of the world will know". He attended the aero club's 76/77 New Year's Eve party.

Attack[edit]

Early on the morning of 3 January 1977, Forman trashed his one-bedroom flat in Mount Isa, piled up the remnants in a corner of his lounge room and created what was later described as an altar. On the top was a trophy for topping his course (Blue Flight) at the former Cessnock, New South Wales Nationwide Aviation Space Academy, and in front of the trophy was his pilot's log book, laid open.

On the date of his sacking from Connair, an entry read: "Sentenced to death this date", and the final page of his log book contained the date, aircraft type, call sign, destination and "Suicide Mission". The final words were THE END on the left and right pages respectively.[5][6]

Foreman then drove 2,000km to Wyndham, stopping overnight at Katherine. On 5 January he stole a Beechcraft 58 Baron (Aircraft registration VH-ENA) from Wyndham Airport after discovering the larger aircraft he had wanted to use was being used by the Royal Flying Doctor Service that day. Alice Springs is four hours flying time from Wyndham in a Beechcraft Baron: Forman had planned to strike at 10 am during the company's morning break, but he did not account for the time difference between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, and arrived at 11 am.[1]

As he reached the airfield at Alice Springs, he broadcast a final message by radio: "It is better to die with honour than live without it – Echo – November – Alpha."[1] Forman then set full power on both engines and aimed at the Connellan complex before plunging the aircraft into the centre of the building.[1]

Roger Connellan (32), Forman's former boss and the son of founder Edward Connellan, and engineers Markus Chittoni (31) and Ron Dymock (50) were killed on impact, while Liana Nappi (19), a secretary, was badly burned and died of her injuries in hospital five days later. Four other Connair employees were injured.[7]

Aftermath[edit]

During the investigation, letters addressed to the Department of Transport were found which explained his motivations.

In them he related his court appearance, described his seven weeks working at Connair as the happiest in his life, and his employment issues following dismissal. He also detailed his plan and his aim to "cause Connair the maximum amount of loss and hardship" and "to kill and maim as many employees of Connair Pty Ltd as possible".[8] This latter comment was erroneously attributed to the final entry in his log book by some media outlets.

Forman was buried in an unmarked grave at Alice Springs, after his family declined to have his body returned to the UK. Controversially, the grave is within sight of the grave of Roger Connellan.

Connellan Airways was sold to East-West Airlines in 1980.[9]

The attack remains a sore topic in Alice Springs, but is covered in a video shown in the Central Australian Aviation Museum.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Kramer, Tarla. "The Silent Grief of Alice Springs". BushMag. Retrieved 20 November 2010.[dead link]
  2. ^ "Connellan Air Disaster Survivor Commemorates Anniversary". ABC News. 5 January 2008. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  3. ^ VH-AEU. Douglas C-47-DL. c/n 6108
  4. ^ "Flinders Island plane crash kills one". Pirep - A Discussion & News Forum for Pilots. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  5. ^ "Suicide pilot berserk before crash: police The Canberra Age, 08 January 1977, pg3". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  6. ^ Personal account PC SMITH Mount Isa journalist who was first to enter Foreman's flat and found and photographed the scene
  7. ^ "E. J. Connellan's Story". Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport. Northern Territories Government. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
  8. ^ "Suicide pilot wanted to kill and maim, pg2, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 January 1977". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  9. ^ "History of the Connellan Airways Trust". Connellan Airways Trust. Retrieved 18 July 2006.