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2 minute read

One dead-calm day in Sydney last week, Student Pilot Anthony Thrower, practicing take-offs and landings at Bankstown airport, stalled the engine of his light Auster plane a few feet from the ground, but made the landing safely, brakes on—he thought. Deciding to start his engine unaided, he advanced the throttle, jumped out of the cockpit and swung the prop. To his surprise, as the engine started, the plane began to move. Thrower grabbed a wing strut, but was unable to hold the plane; it roared downfield, took off and began circling the airport at a height of 15 ft. Twice the plane buzzed the control tower, then, gaining altitude, it began a lazy flight over Sydney’s thickly populated suburbs.

Airport officials suddenly realized that the Auster, trimmed for flight and with a tank full of gas, might cause trouble. Sydney’s Civil Aviation authorities were alerted. Radio warnings were broadcast, incoming airliners were warned, while police, firemen, ambulances and air force crash boats stood by. Tens of thousands of Sydneysiders came out to gape with delight as the plane climbed to 6,000 ft. and dipped seaward.

Called on to shoot down the plane, the flustered Royal Australian Air Force was caught with its Sabre jets unarmed, many of its pilots away. A Meteor was sent up, but its guns jammed. From a Wirraway training plane, a squadron leader shot at the runaway with a hand machine gun, but missed. At one point the flyaway plane was being pursued by six angry but ineffectual military planes. The Royal Australian Navy’s fleet air arm, bitter rival of the R.A.A.F., then sent up a couple of piston-engined Sea Fury fighters, piloted by British veterans. Seven miles out to sea, Lieut. Peter McNay gave the Auster the full force of his 20-mm. guns. The tiny plane shook, burst into flames and slowly spiraled into the sea. Its pilotless flight had lasted 2¾hours.

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