following stories were culled from James Byrom's excellent
book Fields of Air which deals with the history of civil
aviation in South Africa, with special reference to the
curious stories and tragic aspects of that history. James
pointed out that I did not, strictly speaking, need permission
from him to write up the episodes from the book which
deal with Durban. It's true that facts can't be copyrighted
but I still want to acknowlege my great debt to James
and his book. There is a section below marked off from
the rest which contains additional details on the tragedy
of Cookie Mills that I was able to glean from someone
who knew her. Allan Jackson
- 8 August 2006.
up is a mid-air collision between a Gipsy Moth and a Westland
Wapiti north of the mouth of the Umgeni River in 1939. The
military Wapiti was piloted by Lt. LT Kinsey, who was instructing
pupil pilot FP Schoeman and the civilian Moth by Roy Coull**,
who was instructing Noel Horsfield.
flew into the bottom of Coull's machine, breaking off the
Moth's wheels, and then, out of control, it crashed into the
sea. Coull was apparently a pilot of great skill and managed
to fly his aircraft back to Stanford Hill Aerodrome, where
he managed to land after attracting the attention of the groundsman
and signing to him to fetch the fire engine and position it
near where he expected the Moth to come to rest. Both Coull
and his pupil were unhurt.
force also used Stamford Hill Aerodrome at the time and a
party of airforce personnel drove from there to the beach
on the northern side of the Umgeni River. They managed to
swim out to the wreckage of the plane about 200 metres offshore.
The two pilots were not found in the wreckage and the party
returned to the beach. The tug Otto Siedle unsuccessfully
attempted to recover the wreckage but eventually a team of
Indian seine netters managed to manoeuvre their boat through
the surf and attach a rope to the aircraft, which was then
The body of Lt Kinsey was later washed ashore but that of
Schoeman was never found.
Roy Coull was the chief flying instructor for Natal Aviation
and is mentioned on the Learning
to fly in Durban page on this site. There there is also
a picture of him.
struck on 1 January 1952 when sisters Marie "Cookie"
and Lorraine Mills were killed when a Cessna 140, flown by
Cookie, crashed in mist at Cato Ridge while on the way back
to Durban. The aircraft had been hired that morning by Cookie,
a keen pilot, so that the girls could visit their sister Joan
in Pietermaritzburg for New Year's Day lunch. The board of
inquiry found that the aircraft had crashed due to the mist,
but that the pilot should have turned back.
a poignant addendum to the story, my informant Peter
Milne told me that he flew with Cookie the day before
her death, in the very same aircraft in which she died.
He said that he had got off work in the morning, as
it was New Year's Eve, and arrived at Stamford Hill
Aerodrome keen to go for a flight. Cookie, who worked
at the airfield as a secretary, said that she would
like to come along and, so, Peter waited around until
her lunch hour. The two took off in Cessna ZS-BFH and,
along the way, Peter demonstrated, by flying through
a cloud, how easily you can lose your sense of direction
if you fly by the seat of your pants.
told me that he doubts that Cookie flew into cloud for
that reason and the fact that she was experienced enough
to know that she shouldn't do so. The truth will never
be known but, said Peter, the fact that she knew the
aircraft would be required in Durban the following day
may have played some role in causing the accident by
making her unwilling to turn back until the mist had
got too thick it was too late.
a visit to Peter, I was shown his now-yellowing log
book which is one of his most precious possessions and
records the flights he made and the types of aircraft
he has flown or been flown in. On a macabre note, the
log book records a number of flights he made in ZS-BFH
after the tragedy, so the aircraft must have been repaired
after the accident.
Milne is a life-long aviation enthusiast having had
his first flight at Stamford Hill Aerodrome in 1929,
at the age of 6. I have seen the faded receipt for 5
shillings, which was issued by the Durban Light Aeroplane
Club on 5 May 1929 and which records that the flight
took place in Gipsy Moth, ZS-AAI, piloted by N Ford
who, Peter recalls, ended up crashing into the Isipingo
River, just south of Durban, and drowning. Peter trained
as a pilot as soon as he was able and kept his licence
current until a growing family soaked up all the available
funds. He now builds and flies radio-controlled gliders
and makes aeroplane paintings.
3 November 2006
web never ceases to amaze me and this time it was an
e-mail from Marie Lorraine Tomlinson. Alert readers
will have noticed that her first names are the same
as those of the sisters killed in the aircrash, and
it turned out that her mother Avice, was a sister of
Marie (Cookie) and Lorraine. When she gave birth later
in 1952, she named her daughter after her sisters killed
that year. Marie was kind enough to send me a couple
of pictures and a newspaper clipping about the accident.
at the controls of a Piper Cub.
Click image for enlargement
the intrepid aviatrix.
Click image for enlargement
left, and her sister Lorraine.
Click image for enlargement
newspaper clipping on the tragedy.
Click image for enlargement
see that Cookie must have been really passionate about
her flying which is particularly shown in the picture
of her, third from top, in which she's using what I
believe is her Wings Club badge, as a brooch.
30 June 1962, at 3:52pm, an SAA Skymaster with 46 passengers
aboard, was bound for Durban when it collided with an SAAF
Harvard trainer flown by Lt Paul Sinclair and Lt Paul Frolich
above Edwin Swales Road. The Skymaster lost its rudder and
some of its tail but managed to land safely at Louis Botha
Airport a short while later. Sinclair and Frolich bailed out
of their aircraft but Frolich was fiddling with the quick
release mechanism on his parachute in an attempt to get it
to open. He remembered just in time to pull the ripcord instead.
deployed his parachute correctly but it got caught on a lamppost
at the intersection of Edwin Swales and Bluff Road, leaving
him dangling in the way of the traffic. A man driving a Landrover
narrowly missed hitting him and then offered him a lift back
to Louis Botha Airport, never asking how he came to be up
the lamp post in the first place. The pilotless Harvard narrowly
missed a bowling green on the Bluff and crashed in a nearby
courtesy G Buttigieg
Click to view enlargement
Added 11 November 2010: Cathy Tosh wrote in to say that the Harvard crashed on vacant plot which is now no. 114 Wentworth Road. She used to live at 110 Wentworth Rd. She was 6 yrs old at the time, playing tennis in the front lawn with a friend, when the crash happened.
May 1963, Louis van der Spuy was coming in to land at Virginia
Airport and crashed into the top of an aircraft piloted by
Les Miller with Eric Watkinson as a passenger. The propeller
of Miller's plane broke but it sheared off van der Spuy's
nosewheel. Van der Spuy then decided to attempt to land at
Louis Botha Airport because it had better crash facilities.
Kriel of 5 Squadron SAAF soon came up with plan to save van
der Spuy. He called for volunteers to two ride on two jeeps
behind the aircraft as it landed, and to fling themselves
onto its tailplane to prevent its nose digging into the ground.
After a dummy run to check whether the plan was feasible,
Rifleman Herman van Wyk jumped, at 45 miles per hour, from
a jeep onto the tailplane of van der Spuy's aircraft and hung
on until it came to a stop. Van Wyk sustained a scratch on
his leg during the incident but he and Kriel were awarded
Gold Badges by the Durban Wings Club, and gold watches and
cheques by the aircraft's owner and insurers.
story concerns the loss of Max Kolb and his aircraft off Durban
in what was apparently a suicide bid; or was it? Cape Town
photographer Kolb arrived in Durban in his Cherokee 180 aircraft
in December 1964 apparently without a care in the world. He
contacted model agency owner Hazel Bennett and showed her
a portfolio of pictures which impressed her. He went as far
as meeting a model at his hotel but shortly afterwards received
two telephone calls which appeared to depress him.
morning Hazel received a call from him saying that he had
some traveller's cheques and a portable radio for her because,
he said, it was the end for him. She became convinced he intended
to commit suicide in his Cherokee and contact the authorities
at Virginia Airport to stop him. They did try to tamper with
the aircraft to stop him but Kolb took off anyway and kept
contact with Louis Botha (now Durban International) Airport
before sending a final message: "cheerio, boys".
assumed that he had crashed 400 miles out to sea but, two
years later, a trawler captained by Nick Carter hooked an
aeroplane in its nets only 14 miles offshore. He was unable
to identify the aircraft type before the nets tore but said
that it had appeared in an almost undamaged condition. There
was apparently no record of other planes going missing in
the area so was very likely Kolb's. Its location close to
the coast may be explained by the fact that he was disoriented
and had flown in circles the whole time. There has been speculation,
however, that he might have landed close to the shore and
as gently as possible, with the aim of surviving and starting
a new life elsewhere.