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Antenna Tragedy (circa 1963)

30 Jun 14
Peter Bull

Graham Watts posted in ex-OTC Facebook web site

 Chopper Antenna In

























I think I took this shot sometime in 1963 at Bringelly while on field training. A helicopter was being used to assist in the erection of some 200 foot masts.

I seem to remember later that there was an accident when a rigger was killed and the helicopter crashed but have been unable to find any record of the event.

Can anyone help with info?

Graham Watts



Antenna Testing Using DC3 


 The photo here shows the the testing in progress L>R Roy Hunt, Roger Pugsley and Charlie Rudd.




Antenna Constructed



  1. Peter Bull June 30, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    1963 would have been the erection of the Nasa LPA’s about 200 foot high used for the mercury and Gemini projects before Apollo
    Regards Mike Tobin

  2. Peter Bull June 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Graham, long time no see !

    I don’t know about the helicopter but, I understand, the rigger accident happened just before I joined OTC in 1963. Two riggers were killed when a 200ft. mast which was under construction fell over. As I heard it the riggers were making some changes to the guys and they detached one of the three without any temporary guy and as there was only one level of guys at that stage of construction the mast fell over.

    It was as a result of this accident that George Townsend was employed (from BHP I think) as a fully qualified rigger and qualified to train riggers. From that time all staff working at heights were required to have successfully completed a full training course.

    We should try to get some of the stories from any riggers from that era.

    I was involved in aerial design and construction at the coast and point to point radio stations and had considerable contact with Geoge and the team. They were a great bunch of guys and invaluable to OTC. George T. was one of those field workers who could get anything (!!) done when away on field work. If we needed a bulldozer or backhoe or anything that we had not anticipated George would have met someone in the pub or done a foreigner for someone in town who knew someone who could provide the help at short notice!

    I Don’t remember most of the stories but I do remember that George frequently got us out of trouble.

    George was one of the Australians trapped in PNG during the war who helped send information on the positions of the Japanese ships etc back to Australia. He spent months (6 or more I seem to remember he told me) living in the bush supported by the local indigenous people and unfortunately contracted malaria. This disease plagued him from then on and throughout the time that I knew him. Apparently, once infected it can recur from time to time even if you are not reinfected from an external source.

    Regards, Geoff Oldman

  3. Peter Bull July 1, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Dear Graham and Peter,

    My admitedly very vague recollection is that indeed there was an accident in the late 50’s or early 60’s in connection with the erection of a mast, but that two riggers were killed. My recollection was that the accident happened at Bringelly, but I am not 100% sure on this, and it could have been at Doonside. It was reported at the time that whilst the mast was falling, one of the riggers attemped to release the safety belt of the other, to give the other rigger a better chance of survival. During the erection of masts it was necessary to temporarily stay them and the accident happened because one of the temporary stays came loose. As I recall, it was reported that there was a human error. As a junior engineer (or maybe cadet) I happened to be in the Engineering Branch office when news of the accident came in and I can recall the then Chief Engineer, Bill Jenvey, together with other senior staff, hurrying off to the site of the accident.

    With regards,

    Guntis Berzins

  4. Peter Bull July 1, 2014 at 9:46 am


    Although I did not join OTC until 1968 I became acutely aware of the death at what I am sure was Doonside. That is not to discredit your photo being at Bringelly as they could have used coptors at both Bringelly and Doonside) I was working aside Grade 1 Bob Armstrong (who was designing the Log Periodic antennae) without the luxury of any kind of computer!!!. I also got to know the guy who was appointed Head Rigger ( name escapes me it think it may have been George Townsend) following the unfortunate incident .. quite a character and into horse breeding and racing.

    So, that’s all I can offer. I did see photographs of the incident which were not pretty.

    Rob McAulay.

  5. Peter Bull July 2, 2014 at 9:09 am

    My recollection is that two died in the accident in August of either of 1962 or 1963. A certain well now known Engineer (now dead) was in charge and was transferred from Engineering. One of those who died came from Uranquinty. The accident made headline news and there was a coronial inquiry.

    David Richardson

  6. Paul Horder July 2, 2014 at 9:51 am

    The Sydney Morning Herald on 10 August 1962 reported the accident on the front page:

    Riggers Killed in Tower Fall

    Two riggers were killed when a 70 foot radio mast on which they were working crashed to the ground in a tangle of rigging ropes and wires at Doonside yesterday…

    Killed were William McDonald, 32, from Bondi and Morris Whittle, 24, of St Marys…

    The tower, being re-erected after maintenance, was one of more than 30 at the centre. The tower has a square, steel-framed base. It is used to hold up aerial cables.

    Blacktown police said it was not known what caused the tower to collapse…

    The riggers were working about 55 ft up the tower.

    Paul Horder

  7. Peter Bull July 2, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    Could you please pass to the list my appreciation for the input I received from people with a better memory than mine..

    To summarise: It seems clear that the helicopter was not involved at all as it was at Bringelly and further research show that the machine (VH-THF) was still
    flying in 1969. The antenna accident resulting in the death of two riggers actually happened at Doonside. I will try to ferret out more detail from Trove etc..

    Regards to all,
    Graham Watts

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