26 Mar 1946, Lantau Crash

Submitted by miyow on Thu, 05/31/2018 - 14:52

I'm so pleased to have found this group! I come from Vancouver (which is practically a colony of Hong Kong), and I'm so excited to be planning my first visit to the island in November of this year. My grandfather was a pre-war mountaineer who joined the RAF in late 1941.  He spent the next few years flying over Burma, plus 2 seasons running fitness and survival training to RAF pilots in Kashmir. Following the war, he delayed his return home to England in order to see a bit of the world, and volunteered for a 6-month posting to Hong Kong. 

One of his tasks was to create a survey for an airstrip and its approaches in the straight between Hong Kong and Kowloon.  In March 1946 an RAF Dakota disappeared in heavy cloud around Lantau Island, and my grandfather was assigned to the air search that was carried out. Once the crash site was located, he led a recovery mission to locate the bodies. He described a crash site near the island's main peak: 

 "We flew along the Seaward side of the island then burned round the southern tip and along the mainland shore. In a small bay we located the air-sea rescue launch which flashed a message on its Aldis lamp to the effect that a crash had been located. As we buzzed the launch the crew waved their arms and pointed in the direction of the main mountain summit so off we went to see what could be seen. It was for all the world like flying into the jaws of Glencoe from Loch Leven; the mountains were of the same type and size, rising steeply on both sides. We came to a saddle from which the valley on the far side turned sharply to the right, back to the seaward shore-line of the island. Almost immediately the crashed 'plane (what was left of it) could be seen high up near the crest of the summit-ridge; a great heat-scar stood out like a beacon, on that dark flank of the mountain. We turned about and, at low speed, flew along the ridge for a look-see. A dark scar ran along the flank of the ridge, no more than fifty feet or so below the crest, where the 'plane's starboard wingtip had scraped along, then came the tail-unit and, just ahead of it, a heap of ashes. We circled above the wreck but could see no sign of life and so, in gathering darkness, headed back to base."

Is anybody familiar with this crash? I found the news story from the China Mail dated 1946-03-27. I'm an avid hiker and would love to try to find the site when I'm there. It looks like there are a number of hiking trails on Lantau, but I haven't been able to find any sign of a marker or memorial that might mark the crash site. 

Date(s) of events described


I think this is a new one that hasn't been seen on this site before otherwise I am sure it would have been added to this page: https://gwulo.com/node/13970/view-pages

There is an ASN page for it here which gives a few more details: https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19460326-0

The China mail report mentions the crash site as West Lantau Peak. It's possible to cross this section of the mountain on the Shek Pik Country Trail and Lantau Trail Section 3 but in terms of the actual location I shall defer to the more knowledgeable members of the site.


Some discussion here on the construction of the aerodrome at Pingshan. Interesting to note that the planned 'new' aerodrome was abandoned in late March or early April 1946.

Sunday Herald 31 March 1946

Owing to the steep ascent, it was found impossible to bring the bodies of the air disaster down and graves were made close to the scene of the accident. (Not sure if the bodies were ever re-buried.)

What was left of the bodies was exhumed and re-buried:

"I was summoned to the Group Captain's office next morning and, in my capacity as a mountaineer, was asked for an opinion on the feasibility of retrieving the bodies; Wingco Haines had assumed that there were no survivors (an assumption I shared with him) so I gave an opinion to the effect that retrieval would be a long, arduous business and, like as not, a messy and thankless task. He thought for a moment then told me to be ready to lead a reccy-cum- burial party next day; "Meanwhile," he added,"see that the party is properly equipped, I don't want any further calamities." I saw his point; there had been two civilian policemen on the 'plane as well as the crew. They had been offered a joy-ride as a kind of fraternal gesture and had left wives and young children to grieve. The whole colony was sad when the news got around. I was to guide the party to the scene, make an assessment of the situation and act accordingly but, for preference, bury the bodies....

His description of the scene and the remains of the passengers is quite graphic, and he goes on to discuss a "reclamation" climb that he was tasked with leading more than a week later. He states that he intentionally wasted time, pretending that he couldn't remember where the bodies were, because he thought it was pointless and unethical to disturb the cairns that the initial search party had created:

"There came the distinctive smell of decaying flesh and the game was up. The team sprang into action and soon located the caim we had so laboriously erected. Fortunately, we had taken great pains with it, intending it to survive indefinitely, so I was thankful when the team chose to defer its destruction until nex-t day. I could at least enjoy the sail back to Kowloon; no smells of death in the boat. I pointed down the hill -bo the lower cairn then headed back to the beach... A few days later I bumped into Dave West, the air-sea launch skipper, and learned that the body-snatching job had been completed. "I am as sick as a pig, li-terally," he complained, "the boat stinks like a charnel-house and there is no way of curing it." 

A very sad story indeed. These quotes come from an autobiography he wrote for the grandkids after he retired. If there is an appropriate place on this site, I'd be happy to upload the chapter on his brief time in Hong Kong.

I'll enjoy reading that biography. Please could you make a Person page for your grandfather (https://gwulo.com/node/add/person) and post the chapter to a forum post (https://gwulo.com/node/add/forum/2), then I'll link them together.

If he had any photos from Hong Kong we can use to illustrate it, they'll be good to see too. Here's how to upload a photo: https://gwulo.com/node/2076

Regards, David

The document is scanned and saved as PDF; is there a way to upload it in that format? There are likely a few photographs of his time in HK that I could dig up at my mother's house. I've created a "Person" page for him the meantime. 

Also, I'm wondering if his airstrip survey and report might be the document that ultimately led to this: https://gwulo.com/atom/20807

After the abandonment of the Pingshan  Aerodrome project, a Ministry of Civil Aviation Technical Party visited Hong Kong in early 1947 to advise on a site for a new Airport. It would be a few years later when the development of Kai Tak was proposed in the Broadbent Report. See here

The autobiography is now online at https://gwulo.com/node/41256

Here's the section that describes his initial landing at Kai Tak, and then working on the report:

We entered the strait between Hong Kong and Kowloon and gazed down at the runway. It was no more than a macadam strip laid along the beach and bounded on the inshore side by a mountain ridge about five hundred feet high. As one flew along the downwind leg the wingtip seemed to almost scrape the mountainside. At the end, one turned and flew down the lower slopes then turned again to line up with the runway. Between the runway and the approaching aircraft was a pair of low summits which acted as a V-sight through which one could see the far end of the runway but not the near end. The drill then was to scrape through the V and put the nose down steeply whilst hoping for the best.

I mention this because it was the reason why night-landings were out of the question and because it led, in all probability, to me being given the job of carrying out a complete survey of the 'airfield' and its approaches as a prelude to the development of the place for future civilian flying. Why me, I never knew, but I spent hours on those hillsides watching aircraft land; I would stand on one of the two summits near the end of the runway and actually look down on the 'planes as they made their way through the notch prior to the nose-dive onto the runway. I often wonder if anything was made of my long report.

So he wasn't involved with the Ping Shan project after all, just Kai Tak.

My uncle, Flight Lieutenant Joseph Hall (https://gwulo.com/node/42135), was one of the casualties of this plane crash on 26 March 1946.  I have always known about this within our family and next year will have the chance to visit Hong Kong and Sai Wan Cemetery where he is buried.  Hence I am trying to find out more about the incident now and am very interested to read the reports here.  I am new to this site and not sure how it works yet, but hope I can find out more and if appropriate contribute further information.

Hi Margaret, 

How incredible that 72 years later, two relatives of the men involved in this tragic story would make contact with each other!  All the information I have about this crash is in the "Hong Kong" chapter of my grandfather's memoir, which is posted on this site (https://gwulo.com/node/41256). I should warn you that his full description of the crash site is very graphic, and may be upsetting if you were close with your uncle. I'm pleased to learn that he was interred in Sai Wan; my parents recall my grandfather being quite dismayed at the remains being disturbed and moved from what was at that time a very peaceful site, but at least he was given military honours. If you have any further information about the crash (especially the exact location and/or the picture of the cairns), I'd love to know more. I will be visiting Hong Kong next month and was planning to hike up Lantau to try to find it. If I can find the right spot, I'd be happy to send you some pictures. 

Hi Miyow

This is an amazing connection, I have read the chapter of your grandad's memoire, it is very sad.  Uncle Joseph died several years before I was born, but he was always spoken about in the family, hence my interest.  I have uploaded a number of documents about the graves of the crew (all of which I have found on the internet).  I will now search for more information and hope you can find the crash site on your visit - we are visiting in January 2019.

Sai Wan Cemetery.jpg
Sai Wan Cemetery.jpg, by Margaret Francis


Saiwan Cemetery Memorial Plan.png
Saiwan Cemetery Memorial Plan.png, by Margaret Francis


RAF Crash on Lan Tau April 1946 Sai Wan Flight Crew Graves.JPG
RAF Crash on Lan Tau April 1946 Sai Wan Flight Crew Graves.JPG, by Margaret Francis


CWGC Grave Registration.jpg
CWGC Grave Registration.jpg, by Margaret Francis


Saiwan Bay War Cemetery Headstone List (Schedule A 121-130) .jpg
Saiwan Bay War Cemetery Headstone List (Schedule A 121-130) .jpg, by Margaret Francis


CWGC Graves Reg Report Form.jpg
CWGC Graves Reg Report Form.jpg, by Margaret Francis


War Office Graves Concentration Report.jpg
War Office Graves Concentration Report.jpg, by Margaret Francis


War Office Concentration List.jpg
War Office Concentration List.jpg, by Margaret Francis


A little background on one of the victims, Sub Inspector William Henry Abdy CARR,of the hone Kong Police. Carr was born in Scotland on the 1st November 1911 and after service with The Seaforth Highlanders joined the Shanghai Municipal Police,being interned in 1942.He was one of about 45 ex Shanghai Police Officers who were sent to Hong Kong in late 1945  to assist in getting the local Force back up and running and at the time of his death he was a Passport Officer at Kai Tak (the Police were rsponsible for Immigration duties until the early 1960s).It is reported his wife had remained in Shanghai post liberation.