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Fairbairn, George Patrick (1909–1935)

In the most tragic accident in civil aviation in Victoria for several years, Mr. George Patrick Fairbairn, of Lara, and his wife, formerly Miss Mary Murray, were killed instantly when their aeroplane crashed on the Keilor Road, North Essendon, this morning.

Mrs. Fairbairn was flying the machine back to their station at Lara, after having visited Melbourne for the weekend to attend the Empire Day pageant on Saturday. About two miles from the aerodrome the engine of the machine, which had taken off three minutes before, failed. While Mrs. Fairbairn was attempting to make a forced landing, the machine got out of control, spun downward violently for several seconds, and crashed on the macadamised road with terrific force.

The driver of a motor truck, who had to swerve quickly to avoid the falling aeroplane, had a narrow escape from injury when the tail unit grazed one of the mudguards.

Both socially and among aviators, Mr. and Mrs. Fairbairn were exceptionally popular. They were leading members of the Royal Aero Club of Victoria, and they were members of a family which has become known as the "Flying Fairbairns." Mr. Fairbairn was a pilot of considerable experience, having flown from London to Melbourne in the machine which crashed, and his wife was one of the first women pilots in Victoria. She held many Aero Club trophies.

The crash occurred with tragic suddenness. As Mr. and Mrs. Fairbairn walked to the aeroplane, which had been left in the hangar of the Hart Aircraft Co. for the night, Mrs. Fairbairn remarked to one of the mechanics: "What a lovely morning for flying." Between the time when Mrs. Fairbairn climbed into the pilot's cockpit at the rear of the Spartan sports machine behind her husband who was in the front cockpit, and the accident, not more than three minutes could have elapsed.

Flying Smoothly
The aeroplane, which was fitted, with dual controls, was flying smoothly at a height of about 300ft., when the engine spluttered and stopped. Observation of the position of the machine after the crash and the course that it was flying before indicate that, immediately the engine stopped, Mrs. Fairbairn selected a large field, about a quarter of a mile to her left, to which she could glide down and land. The closeness of the field to the machine necessitated skilful flying to reach it. A windbreak of tall pine trees beside the Keilor Road, directly in the course of the machine, obstructed the only other paddock in which she apparently thought that she could have landed.

The rate of descent in the glide is believed to have been too steep for Mrs Fairbairn to pilot the machine over the pine trees. She was forced to attempt a left-handed gliding turn towards the clear field. Half way through the turn the machine lost flying speed, the nose dropped sharply and it went into a tight spin. It is thought possible that the aeroplane may have got out of control at this stage through a heavy suitcase, which was in the front cockpit, sliding on to the rudder hard and jamming it. Another cause which may have contributed to the accident is the possibility that Mrs. Fairbairn over-corrected the rudder when the turn began.

Terrific crash
In the view of scores of persons in motor cars and in adjoining paddocks the machine whirled towards the road at a speed of more than 120 miles an hour. The report of the crash was heard more than two miles away. Rebounding several feet into the air, the machine swung 24 feet to the side of the road and broke into a mass of torn fabric, splintered wood and twisted metal. The fuselage of the machine was crumpled as far back as the rear cockpit. Mrs. Fairbairn, who was hurled against her safety strap with such force that it broke, was flung 10 yards from the machine on to the grass at the side of the road. Mr. Fairbairn was crushed by the motor, which had been torn from its bearings, and forced back into his cockpit with the engine jammed against his neck. Mr. Fairbairn's head was forced against his feet and his body was almost completely covered with wreckage.

Both bodies were shockingly mutilated.

The prompt swerving of his motor truck saved Mr. E. Bomball, of East Melbourne, from being crushed under the plane.

Albert Stainer, a garage assistant, who witnessed the crash, said that the nose dipped suddenly. He remarked: "There is another one down." Spinning down at terrific speed, the machine hit the road and bounced to the side.

Official inspection
An inspection of the scene of the accident was made by Colonel Murdoch, on behalf of the Air Accidents Investigation Committee, and by members of the Civil Aviation Department.

Mr. Fairbairn, who was aged 26 years, was the youngest son of the late Mr. Charles Fairbairn, and he was a brother of Major C. O. Fairbairn, of Banongil, Skipton, and of Mr. James V. Fairbairn, M.H.R.

The late Mr. Fairbairn was a pupil at the Geelong Grammar School, and he became an undergraduate at Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1927. Later he joined the Cambridge University Air Force. In 1932 Mr. Fairbairn and Mr. K. Shentone made a leisurely flight to Australia.

Mrs. Fairbairn, who also was aged 20 years, was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Murray, of East Melbourne. She was regarded as an exceptionally able woman pilot, and had made many long country flights. She married Mr. Fairbairn about two years ago.

Mr. and Mrs. Fairbairn had a baby girl aged 14 months.

Original publication

Citation details

'Fairbairn, George Patrick (1909–1935)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fairbairn-george-patrick-1074/text1075, accessed 18 November 2017.

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