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A boy and his saviour
One was a six-year-old boy, the other a C-130 pilot. Fate brought them together in 1974 and again 20 years later, reports CPL Simone Liebelt.

SQNLDR Martin Copland

SQNLDR Martin Copland

Then FLGOFF Jack Fanderlinden

Then FLGOFF Jack Fanderlinden

WHEN Squadron Leader Martin Copland joined the Air Force, he couldn’t have imagined he would one day meet the man who had flown him to safety after Cyclone Tracy.

The young pilot’s CO at No. 32 Squadron in 1994 was Jack Fanderlinden who, as a junior captain, flew the second Hercules into Darwin.

“We were just discussing Hercs, and it came up that I’d taken my first Herc flight when I was six so he asked me to tell him about it,” SQNLDR Copland said. “When I told him about the flight he said he was the captain and I couldn’t believe it. We were both pretty amazed by it, definitely.”

AIRCDRE (ret’d) Fanderlinden, a Flying Officer with No. 37 Squadron at the time of Tracy, recalled descending into a black hole at RAAF Base Darwin as the runway lights and navigation aids were knocked out.

“We were within a couple hundred feet of the ground and were at the point of flying away to divert to another airfield when I saw a rotating yellow beacon [which used to sit on top of the old RAAF combies],” he said.

“As it turned out, they had cleared a small part of the runway and when they heard us coming, got on to the runway and put their beacon on to give us a sign that it was safe to land. If there was any doubt, we would have not landed that night.”

SQNLDR Copland’s most vivid memory of the natural disaster is finding his bedroom door leaning up against one of the house posts and his school bag still hanging on the back of the door. “That’s all we ever found of my room,” he said.

He also remembered how strange it was to experience the eye of the storm. “... it was the eeriest thing, because it was at night in the city, so you would usually get lots of noise and light, but there was no power and it was pitch dark because there was no light; there were no stars because it was overcast; there was no wind because it was the centre of the storm, and all the animals had been blown away, so you couldn’t hear any of the usual night noises like geckos and bats.”

After a few days at a shelter, SQNLDR Copland, his three-year-old brother and mother were evacuated to Sydney on the Herc piloted by Jack Fanderlinden, while his father stayed to assist with the cleanup.

SQNLDR Copland’s parents took a holiday in Tasmania two weeks after the cyclone. While there, the Tasman Bridge collapsed after being hit by a bulk carrier, killing 12 people and cutting Hobart in two.

Herculean effort

In Cyclone Tracy’s aftermath, the Air Force’s transport squadrons worked tirelessly to bring in supplies and evacuate residents from Dec 26, 1974, to Jan 4, 1975.

36SQN’s contribution

  • 8 aircraft
  • 554 flying hours
  • Carried 2864 passengers and 793,000lb freight

37SQN’s contribution

  • 11 aircraft
  • 700 flying hours
  • Carried 4400 passengers and 1.3 million lb freight

    In one day, 19 Hercs from the two squadrons made a total of 44 flights into Darwin.


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