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12 January 2019


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Paul Oates

Hi Daniel - I think Wau airstrip had a nine degree inclination. It certainly had some amazing history.

During World War II, the Japanese fought their way half way up the strip and Australian troops were being flown in over their heads by DC3's. Having landed, the troops disembarked and went straight into action. The wounded were evacuated by the same aircraft.

The local branch of the then Bank of NSW had the original steel vault out the back that had gaping holes in it from the cannon fire of Japanese fighters.

Ordinance from the war was everywhere and children constantly found bullets and cartridges whilst playing around their houses.

Not long before I was posted to Wau, a pilot of a DC3 forgot to put his handbrake on properly and the aircraft, minus the pilot, rolled down the strip and crashed into a house across the road at the end of the strip.

When you visited Wau, was the sign on the road and the lower end of the strip still there warning 'Landing aircraft have right of way'? Apparently some drivers were so intent on the road rules they forgot the obvious.

Apropos your feeling, in 1972 a Cessna 206 from MacAir was taking a group of ladies to Lae to do some shopping although there were storms around Lae and Nadzab.

Revving up at the top of the strip, the pilot jokingly turned to the apprehensive group and casually said: "By the way, are you all familiar with the safety features of this aircraft?"

"Noooo..." was the tremulous response.

"That's good," he said, ''Cos there aren't any" and pulled on the throttle.

Onlookers apparently heard the screams all the way down the strip as the plane took off.

Daniel Kumbon

Thanks for this story Paul. I heard about the crash when I grade 7 at St Paul's Lutheran High School in Wapenamanda.

I landed on both the Wau and Bulolo airstrips on a light aircraft sometime in the late 70s.

I thought the Wau strip was a little steep. As we took off, I stepped on the floor board as if to apply the brake on a speeding car.

Soon, the fear was gone as we levelled off and flew towards Lae airport down the flat Markham Valley.

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