Ross McDonald with the propellor he helped salvage from the Hudson Bomber that crashed into the sea off Motueka on September 29, 1942. Photo: Simon Bloomberg.

Historic plaque brings back memories

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A plaque will be unveiled at the Nelson Underwater Club headquarters in Nelson on Saturday as the final act in the tragic death of six Royal New Zealand Air Force fliers near Motueka in World War II.

Members of the Nelson Underwater Club helped salvage some of the wreckage of the Hudson Bomber that crashed into the sea off Motueka on September 29, 1942.

Members of the Nelson Underwater Club with some of the wreckage salvaged from the Hudson Bomber back in 1975.
Members of the Nelson Underwater Club with some of the wreckage salvaged from the Hudson Bomber back in 1975.

Flying officer Dean Horrocks, sergeants Vincent Hill, Jack Bryson, Victor Chapple and Gordon Stevens, and AC1 John Davies, died from hypothermia following the crash and the plaque with their names will be unveiled as part of the New Zealand Underwater Club’s annual general meeting in Nelson on Saturday.

The plaque has been mounted at the base of a propeller that was salvaged from the bomber by some of the club’s divers in 1975. Although that was over 30 years ago, one of the club’s veteran divers, Ross McDonald, 86, says it seemed like yesterday.

“The commercial fishermen got hold of us because it was right in the middle of a good trawling spot,” Ross says. “When we went down it was covered in nets and rubbish and wires, and all sorts of stuff from trawlers.

“The aircraft was upside down, and the starboard engine had come off and was in front of the plane. It was really murky –  you could only see a couple of feet so it was quite eerie.”

Ross says they placed the salvaged engine in a fresh water spring near Lansdowne Rd for five years to flush out all the salt water before taking it to their clubrooms. It was mounted outside the clubroooms in 2006 when it was finally returned to the club by police after “being stolen, and brought and sold, two or three times.”

However, the salvage of the Hudson Bomber was just one of many historic dives Ross has been involved in during a life-time as a commercial diver. He was a member of salvage teams on the Mikhail Lermotov and Jody F Millennium, and worked on the Cook Strait Cable – he completed his last commercial salvage with club member Colin Wilkin on a fishing boat in Port Nelson late last year.

“I started hose-diving on the Arapuni Dam in 1948 and then worked in search and rescue when I joined the airforce in 1950. We started the Marlborough Underwater Club when I was based at Woodbourne in 1957 and then I helped start the Nelson Underwater Club when I moved over here in 1958.

“One of our favourite dives back in the early days was the Pupu Springs. We’d drive right up to the spring and there’d be cows grazing all around the edge of the water.” Colin says Ross is a living legend who has dived all over the world. Ross was also the first diver to go into the Riwaka Resurgence, taking candles to light in Agee jars once he was in the caves, Ross says.

“He’s dived with Kelly Tarlton and Wade Doak and all those guys, “ Colin says. “He’s a bit of a legend around here.” Ross says he is looking forward to Saturday’s plaque unveiling that will be attended by officials from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The annual general meeting will also feature a function on Saturday night and a dive off Tonga Island on Sunday.