War plane recovery

After sitting in muddy sludge since it was ditched in Lake Corangamite in 1950, a World War II Wirraway plane is close to being retrieved and restored.

After resting at the bottom of Lake Corangamite for almost 70 years, the first steps to resurface a Wirraway plane used to train RAAF pilots are now under way.

Professional salvage diver Rod Knights confirmed on-site preparations would also begin soon to raise the CAC Wirraway A20 714 from its watery grave.

After navigating a long and laborious process to secure appropriate permits from about 12 different organisations, including the Corangamite Shire, Corangamite Catchment Management

Authority, Parks Victoria and Heritage Victoria, the salvage project is finally set to get under way.

“It’s taken 10 years to satisfy all the requirements and get everyone on board,” Mr Knights said.

“We’re now busy building all the equipment needed to retrieve the plane.”

The project will see a gantry built alongside the partially submerged warplane and a barge put in place to transport it to shore.

The relic will then be trucked to another location where it will be disassembled into several major pieces and submerged in a number of different tanks.

“The plane will be lifted on the barge in one piece and a tractor used to drag it out of the water,” Mr Knights said.

“Once it’s disassembled in the various tanks, it will have to sit for a few years in water which has the right alkaline level.

“I have the most well-known corrosion expert in Australia helping me with advice.”

Initially planned to remain in a 300,000 litre tank on-site at Lake Corangamite, an off-site location was subsequently chosen due to security concerns.

A crashed CAC Wirraway A20 714 has sat in Lake Coragamite’s salty waters for almost 70 years.

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 plane’s bomb aiming equipment with the compass when its propeller hit the water, preventing the plane from being able to climb again.

Although locals have long been aware of the Wirraway’s existence, Mr Knights said the aircraft was officially rediscovered in 2005 by Gordon Wilson, a Colac based crop dusting pilot after the lake level receded following several years of drought.

For Mr Knights, the salvage project combines his two main passions – a love of diving and love for aircraft.

“When I first hatched the plan to salvage the plane it was still in quite good condition, but in the time it has taken to secure all the appropriate permits, the plane has deteriorated a lot and quite a few more things have fallen off and corroded,” he said.

“We won’t know the exact condition of the plane until we pull it out.”

Far from deterred, Mr Knights said he had already sourced numerous original parts, while others would be rebuilt by engineers.

“It’s quite possible that, depending on the expertise of the engineers, the Wirraway could fly again,” he said.

“However, it would almost be a replica because so many of the original parts will have to be replaced.”

The plane’s actual salvage operation is loosely scheduled to take place between March and August in 2020.

“We have to avoid the bird breeding season,” Mr Knights said.

World War II pilot Vance Drummond lived to fly again after ditching a Wirraway into Lake Corangamite.

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