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Plane disappearance creates reluctant hero

John Seymour Proud achieved much in his long life of 90 years, although this was nearly cut short when he was only 29 years old.

Plane crash survivor John Seymour Proud's headstone at St Aloysius Catholic Cemetery, The Oaks, NSW. Photo Findagrave alisonc1109

On Friday, 19th February, 1937 the Brisbane to Sydney flight of the Stinson mail plane VH-UHH, with five passengers, including John, and two crew aboard, crashed in the isolated and rugged country of the McPherson Range near the NSW/Qld border.

Along with John, two other passengers to survive were Joe Binstead and James Westray. Sadly, the two pilots, Reginald Boyden and Beverley Shepherd, and two other passengers, William Fountain and James Graham, did not survive. John had a badly broken leg, with the others suffering minor injuries.

The plane had taken off from Archerfield after 1.00 pm on Friday and was meant to arrive in Sydney by 4.30 pm. However, just before the NSW border, the plane flew into cyclonic weather over the range. It was later indicated the south-easterly winds would strike the southern face of the McPherson Range plateau, rising, and causing extreme turbulence to a considerable height.

The aircraft was reported missing by 7.30 pm Friday night.

Searches for the missing aircraft were concentrated around the north of Sydney, believing the plane had followed the coast southwards. Reports of a plane flying over by a farmer from Nimbin led to searches based out of Lismore to no avail.

Bernard O'Reilly in 1937

Bernard O'Reilly owned a guest house in Lamington National Park and after hearing of the disappearance of the mail plane, and reports from neighbours of it flying very low over them the day it disappeared, he decided to scout around the area. He trekked into the bushland and 10 days after the crash, at 4.30pm came across the crashed plane and the two survivors, Binstead and Proud.

Bernard later found Westray's body, after the survivor had gone in search of help, at the bottom of a waterfall. He raced back to civilisation to get help for Binstead and Proud. He had covered 37km to find the men.

Memorial to James Westray, near where his body was found in the Macpherson Range. Courtesy John Huth on Monument Australia.

The survivors were recovered and conveyed out by stretcher to the foot of the mountain. John Proud went on to live an illustrious career in the mining industry and was knighted in 1978. Joe Binstead went back to Sydney and lived a normal life, eventually dying in 1969.

The body of James Westray was buried close to where his body was found.

Bernard O'Reilly, the reluctant hero, went on to volunteer in the Air Force and eventually wrote the story of the rescue entitled Green Mountains and Cullenbenbong. He died in 1975.


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