Wirraway to surface

The World War II Wirraway plane that ditched into Lake Corangamite during a pilot training exercise.

AFTER resting at the bottom of Lake Corangamite for 60-plus years, a Wirraway plane used to train RAAF pilots is set to be salvaged and restored.
Professional salvage diver Rod Knights plans to raise the CAC Wirraway A20 714 from its watery grave sometime next year.
Using his professional expertise, Mr Knights said the idea was to raise the plane and transfer it to a nearby 300,000 litre freshwater tank for cleaning – a process expected to take several years.
Ultimately, the aim is to restore the plane and have it placed on public display, possibly at Barwon Heads.
For Mr Knights, the project combines his two main passions – a love of diving and a love for aircraft.
“I’ve been diving since I was a youngster growing up at Warranambool and have been a commercial diver for many, many years, specialising in salvage operations,” he said.
“I also used to volunteer at the Mildura Aircraft Museum, which is where I developed a real interest in the history of planes, especially those made in Australia.
“I’ve known about the Wirraway in Lake Corangamite for a long time and restoring it seemed like the perfect retirement project for me.”
Having worked on the project for at least five years, Mr Knights said he was now in the final stages of gaining approval to go ahead.
The Royal Australian Air Force has agreed to sign over ownership of the plane to Mr Knights subject to a few last minute approvals from various authorities, including Parks Victoria, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, Corangamite Shire and Heritage Victoria.
Having already given their ‘in principal’ support for the project, the final approvals are expected to be a formality.
“The Wirraway itself is surprisingly well-preserved under the mud,” Mr Knights said.
“The lake’s water is salty with very little oxygen – if there’s no oxygen there’s no corrosion.
‘However, the parts of the plane that has been exposed to the air has deteriorated to a point.
“I have already been liaising with war bird component manufacturers with regard to parts, plans, schematic designs and the like and I’m sure the plane can be fully restored.”
The salvage operation will include dredging around the aircraft, lifting it onto a floating pontoon, floating it to shore and transferring it into the freshwater tank which will be continually flushed.
Located on the western edge of the lake, the plane has rested in muddy sludge undisturbed since its pilot Vance Drummond ditched into the lake in October 1950.
Lake Corangamite being a prime training ground for wartime pilots, Drummond was flying low, attempting to align the bomb aiming equipment with the compass when the propeller hit the water, preventing the plane from being able to climb again.
Mr Knights said the aircraft was re-discovered in 2005 by Gordon Wilson, a Colac-based crop dusting pilot after the lake level receded following several years of drought.
Corangamite Shire has advertised the planning permit application, with submissions being accepted until Friday, December 6.
Lake Corangamite is subject to both a Heritage Overlay and an Environmental Significance Overlay.

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