Fairey Firefly Anecdotes

Any stories, memories or accounts of working on or flying in Firefly aircraft of the RAN would be most welcome, and will be added to this page. Please use the ‘Contact Us’ form at the foot of this page to let us know. 


A Fairey Firefly Crash Remembered

On 27 November 1956 two 851 Squadron Fairey Flies, from RANAS Nowra, collided at about 2,000 feet above Huskisson, NSW. Sub Lieutenant Arthur Arundel RN and trainee observer Midshipman Noel Fogarty RAN were killed when their aircraft WD887 crashed into Jervis Bay.

The other Firefly VX381, with about seven feet of the starboard wing missing, ditched in Hare Bay about three miles from the collision point. The pilot Sub Lieutenant John David Eagles RN and trainee observer Midshipman Donald Debus RAN managed to escape from their Firefly, which sank in about 15 seconds. After climbing into their life rafts, they were winched to safety by a Sycamore helicopter from RANAS Nowra. The wreckage of their aircraft was discovered in 1983 by local diver Charlie Pickering in about 15 metres of water, and has become a popular dive site. 

Arundel and Fogarty were not so fortunate and despite lengthy searches their bodies were never found. The location of Firefly WD887 also remained hidden for many years. 

Determined to find the missing Firefly, and with some help from two English backpackers, Greg Stubbs made telephone contact with the surviving pilot David Eagles who, after his service with the RAN, had returned to the UK where he forged a distinguished career in aviation. When Eagles visited Australia in February 2016, he met Stubbs and narrowed down the crash site of WD887. After many years of searching, in March 2016, Greg found WD887 which had broken-up on impact, about 3.5 km from Moona-Moona Creek.  A story of the search (including audio and photographs) can be seen here.

On Sunday 27 November 2016, exactly sixty years after that fatal crash, a memorial service was held at Jervis Bay, where Commodore Chris Smallhorn, Commander Fleet Air Arm, honoured the young men who died that day. He said, ‘when we lost those two young men, we lost two aviators that represented an entire Fleet Air Arm, an entire country’. After a wreath was placed over the crash site, and with the help of Greg Stubbs and a navy dive team, a granite plaque was placed on the sea floor next to WD887. 

Korea: A Classic Helicopter Rescue

At 1500 on Friday 26 October 1951, five Fireflies were catapulted from HMAS Sydney to attack a railway tunnel, 10 miles South of Sariwon. On a low-level dive towards the tunnel one of the Fireflies encountered intense flak and was badly damaged. At 1555 the pilot, Sub Lieutenant N.D. MacMillan, RAN and Observer 1 Hancox, made a forced landing in a paddy-field, about 3 miles West of the target, deep inside enemy territory.

When news of this reached HMAS Sydney, it was thought unlikely that a helicopter could fly the 110 miles to the crash site and reach safety before nightfall. Although realising that despatching a helicopter was risky [it was a USN HO3S-1 Sikorsky on loan to Sydney], the USN pilot, Chief Machinist’s Mate ‘Dick’ Babbitt and Air Crewman Callis C. Gooding, were briefed and in the fading light flew their helicopter at top speed towards the crash site.

Meanwhile, MacMillan and Hancox had taken refuge in a ditch. After placing signs to tell the RESCAP they were uninjured a Firefly fired a green flare to say help was on its way. By this time several Sea Furies and RAAF Meteors had joined the RESCAP. At 1720, two bursts of enemy machine gun fire were heard, which MacMillan returned using his Owen gun. After placing a sign pointing to the enemy two Sea Furies strafed the area; just as the helicopter landed nearby. While Aircrewman Gooding fired his Owen gun at the enemy, MacMillan and Hancox climbed aboard. It was now 1730, and in the encroaching darkness the helicopter headed for Kimpo air-base some 80 miles away.       

Onboard HMAS Sydney, it was with great relief that a signal arrived, from HMS Amethyst in the Han River, saying the helicopter passed over her into friendly territory some 15 minutes after sunset. That the helicopter managed to reach Kimpo in darkness at 1830, was a result beyond anybody’s expectation. Both Babbitt and Gooding received the US Navy Cross, and Babbitt a DSM.