Technically one cannot classify the crash of the Rietbok as the worst crash in Port Elizabeth. Even though it departed from Port Elizabeth, it crashed just off the coast at Kidd’s Beach, East London.
On Friday 4th December 1959, a PV1 Ventura crashed with the loss of the crew of 5, making it the worst air crash in Port Elizabeth.
Main picture: Lockheed PV1 Ventura painting by Ron Belling in VIP Transport Colours
Acquisition of the Venturas
During WW2, ships in South African waters were subject to the menace of German U-Boats which operated freely off the coast. To supplement the search and rescue capability, the Air Force acquired Lockheed Ventura Mark 1 & 2 bombers. The first to arrive were allocated to Brooklyn Air Station in 1942. The Ventura had a range of 3 100kms at a speed of 450 km/h. Lockheed manufactured a maritime version of the Ventura; the PV-1 patrol bomber. Between 1942 and 1960, the SA Air Force operated 130 B-34 bombers and 134 PV-1 maritime patrol bombers.
Shortly after World War II a few Lockheed Venturas were modified as VIP transports to operate with 28 Squadron, reducing the flying time from Pretoria to Cape Town to just over three hours. After its conversion No 6487 (29 Squadron) was transferred to 28 Squadron in mid-1946. It had a polished natural metal finish, matt Ultramarine antiglare nose and nacelle panels and (initially) A type roundels.
During the early 1950s, the Springbok roundel was introduced, and VIP aircraft were finished with White fuselage decking with UItramarine separating stripes. Castle insignia were introduced prior to their retirement. Another comparatively rare Ventura type were the post-war target tugs. The smooth fuselage topline was broken by the bulky winch and supporting structure. The aircraft were finished in the standard RAF overall Yellow with 36 in (915 mm) Black diagonal bands at an angle of 60° and 72 in (1829 mm) wide on all surfaces. The stabilizer was Black and the elevators Yellow.
Ventura No 6481 was based at the Port Elizabeth Air Base for a short period during 1954 to undertake drogue-towing flights for maritime exercises off the coast. In 1957/58,the Avro Shackleton MR-3 long range maritime reconnaissance bomber replaced the Venturas in their maritime role. In 1960, when the Ventura disappeared from the scene, a Dakota was modified to continue the target tug duties. Apart from white decking, the same scheme was retained.
On Friday 4th December 1959, four Venturas and five fighters flew down to Port Elizabeth as part of an exercise.
On its approach to the Driftsands Airport, Ventura number 6538 experienced engine problems. It could not reach the runway and crashed into the bush near Southdene with all five crew members being killed.
Eyewitnesses recall that one of the engines had failed. As the plane was coming in to land, it plunged into the bushes between Forest Hill and Southdene in an area known as as “Langdraai“, being near the southern end of the +- N-S-running relatively new runway . The plane was totally devastated. All that they could recognise were the engines. There were two large impact crates where the engines went into the ground.
Apparently, according to WW2 pilots who flew the Ventura as a bomber, if one lost power in one engine, one had to avoid applying full power on the other engine due the plane having short wings, small rudders and a powerful 2800 cubic inch radial engine. This factor could have played a part in the crash.
Aircraft “decapitates” house
A Portrait of Military Aviation in South Africa by Ron Belling (1989, Struikhof Publishers, Cape Town)
P.E. Accidents and Disasters by Khitab (June 1973, Looking Back, Vol X111, No 1)