Flight of the Resolution

2004-2003 News Archive

Native Sons of the Golden West Meeting

November 20th, 2004

Christopher O'Donnell will continue the Resolution Committee's task of creating an appropriate memorial for the Resolution at a meeting with the Native Sons of the West. This benevolent group has gracefully agreed to produce a granite plaque for the final memorial site. We are moving towards our ultimate goal, so keep browsing back and stay updated on our progress.

MidPeninsula Open Space Open Space District Meeting

November 10th, 2004

The next significant step in our efforts with the Resolution committee will occur when Christopher O'Donnell meets with the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District. He will be discussing plans for a memorial dedicated to the memory of the crash of the Resolution, with the support of this important group. Stayed tuned for results and late breaking information.

San Mateo County Times Online

October 25th, 2003

Effort to memorialize County's worst air crash

By David Burger, STAFF WRITER

Article Last Updated: Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 3:10:26 AM PST

Fifty years ago this Wednesday the Resolution, an Australian Douglas DC-6, crashed into a fog-bound ridge eight miles southeast of Half Moon Bay, killing all 19 people on board.

Instead of officially mandated moments of silence, elaborate ceremonies or funereal eulogies, the only remembrance was a hike this morning into the wooded hills surrounding Kings Mountain, the site of the crash.

Christopher O'Donnell, of Half Moon Bay, will be on the strenuous, six-and-a-half-mile hike conducted by guides of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, but his journey will not stop at the end of the trail. His ultimate aim is to bring the event into the public's focus on a larger scale, something he calls " preservationism."

" I want to preserve the memories and the material of the worst aviation crash in the history of the County," he said. " This is my grand challenge, my grand quest."

O'Donnell is the founding member of the one-month-old Flight of the Resolution Memorial Fund (www.flightoftheresolution.org), a group of citizens who share his quest. They want to see a memorial erected on the disaster site. If that can't be accomplished, they would like for some memorabilia still remaining at the site to be placed in the Hiller Aviation Museum, located in San Carlos.

That looks like a longshot. Three weeks ago, the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District, which owns the land that includes the disaster site, rejected the group's request for either of those options on the grounds that it wants the land to remain pristine and untouched.

O'Donnell was disappointed, but not discouraged. " I'm an adventurer, so I have to take the good with the bad," he said.

O'Donnell's interest in the project was rekindled only recently, but has its roots in his Australian boyhood. As a child, he was a member of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia, and he traded photographs of planes with other children around the world. He left Australia in the sixties, and lost track of his pen pals and the society.

Then last year O'Donnell bought his first computer, which he soon used to re-establish contact with the society. He received an e-mail in early September from a member who had noticed O'Donnell's Half Moon Bay address.

The Resolution's crash was the first fatal overseas accident ever by an Australian plane, and had more notoriety down under than here in the United States. The e-mail's author asked O'Donnell one simple question: " Did the crash site have a plaque?"

O'Donnell quickly learned that it did not, and in the process he heard interesting stories related to the crash that he described as a " drug" that wouldn't let him go: The flight, from Honolulu to San Francisco, was only minutes from being completed the crash apparently happened because the pilot was over-confident in the morning fog and drove the plane straight into a mountain one of the passengers was the famed 31-year-old American pianist William Kapell three major forest fires were caused by the accident and, most important, that wreckage still remained at the crash site -- including most of one wing.

In the past month, O'Donnell enlisted other people in the community to help in his attempts to memorialize the event, including Dave Pine of Burlingame, who was attracted to the project mostly because of his interest in history, but also because of the founding member's personality. " Christopher is a very passionate person who cares deeply about this matter," he said. " He's a colorful and animated guy who got involved in such a dramatic story."

During today's hike, Pine and O'Donnell hope to get to know the guides from the district to see if there is a way the land owner can be persuaded to memorialize the site or to let the wreckage be transported to a local museum. Either way, O'Donnell sees this as just the beginning.

" I can't turn back now," he said. " This is a good thing to do."

Half Moon Bay Review Article

October 15th, 2003

'Noble cause' rises from crash

By Stacy Trevenon--Half Moon Bay Review

Back on Thursday, Oct. 29, 1953, at 8:43 a.m., life was quiet and routine on Kings Mountain. It was a community bursting with pride in its newchrisatsite200610 elementary school. And there, teachers might have been lecturing to a class, or the hush of study may have filled the school. But at 8:43, the day's schoolwork was shattered by a distant thud, an explosion, and then silence. Barely 90 minutes later, a Coast Guard team zeroed in on a column of smoke rising from a heavily wooded mountain ridge a mile south of the school.

Flash forward 50 years, and you come to the compulsive, determined quest of Australia native and Canada Cove resident Christopher O'Donnell, 60. Coming up on Oct. 29, 2003 is the 50th anniversary of San Mateo County's worst air disaster. And O'Donnell's quest is to set up a memorial to the 19 people who died in it.

" This is a noble thing to do," O'Donnell said. " I don't want these people forgotten."

The plane that went down that day was a 90,000-pound DC-6 - 100 feet long with a 117-foot wingspan. It was Flight 304/44 of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, an Australian airline founded in March 1946. Due to economic shifts in the highly competitive airline industry serving Australia, New Zealand and Britain, it was integrated into Qantas in 1954. The huge plane had everything, including sleeper accommodations, and it was one of four DC-6s purchased by the airline around 1950 and named after the four ships commanded by Capt. James Cook (1728-1779): the Resolution, Endeavor, Adventure and Discovery.

This was the Resolution. On the last leg of an uneventful Sydney-to-San Francisco flight, it was descending into San Francisco when it hit heavy coastal fog. Air controllers advised the veteran pilot, Capt. Bruce Dickson, to remain at least 500 feet above the " clouds." Well-acquainted with this route, Dickson might have ignored the directive. His last communication with the tower, at 8:40 a.m., was " southeast, turning inbound." Later, it was determined that the plane hit trees, which sheared off the wings, and then crashed headfirst into the mountain. All 11 passengers and eight crew members died on impact, and the resulting explosion and fire scattered wreckage far down the hill. The probable cause: " failure of the crew to follow prescribed procedures for an instrument approach."

Among the mostly-Australian passengers who died was a young polio victim traveling to America with his father to seek treatment. Also among them was handsome, gifted American virtuoso pianist William Kapell, 31. Known for his passionate, electrifying playing, Kapell was acknowledged as the leading American pianist of his day.

Now, O'Donnell is making sure the world knows of Kapell - and the 18 others who died with him. " This crash is well-known by many people and not well-known by just as many," he said flatly. He was one of those who knew. In his teens, he was an avid member of the Aviation Historical Society of Australia. He lost track of aviation in the course of other adventures. He came to America in 1964, worked as a salesman for major cosmetics companies. He went east to cross the country, took a ship to Europe, lived in Rome, drove to Moscow, saw Greece, spent a winter in the Sahara desert and came home in 1975.

Seeking new adventures he turned to photography, working for Kaufmann's Cameras Inc. in San Mateo and teaching that art to adults throughout the Park & Recreation system and night classes at the College of San Mateo. Other interests include headkeeper at Pigeon Point Light Station in Pescadero and docent at Hiller Aviation Insitute in San Carlos. When he got his first computer, " a world opened up by way of the Internet." Online, he tracked down his old aviation society. A member, seeing his Half Moon Bay address, asked about the Resolution - and " a major project took off," he said.

O'Donnell has made pilgrimages to Kings Mountain, hiking an hour along the wooded Resolution Trail to a sunny, exposed hillside still littered with sections of twisted and charred DC-6 wreckage.

" It looks like somebody dumped a car," O'Donnell said. Some pieces are as big as a car door. Others are as tiny as bolts. When O'Donnell speaks of them, his tone turns reverential. " I'm not sure yet what is driving me," he said. Perhaps it is a confrontation with the mortality in the crash. "Actually, this picked me up and gave me a new 'raison d'etre'. Life is full of adventure. This is another one."

To him, the quest is "a noble thing to do."

I've done a lot of good things and never had a title or a caption put to them," he said heartily. " I was thinking it was a noble thing to do. It's time good people stepped forward and said, 'This is a good thing to do, and watch me do it.'" Joined by a cadre of like-minded friends, O'Donnell approached the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District about placing a plaque at the site. Last week, the request was nixed. O'Donnell said he wasn't surprised. "They want to keep the land as pristine as possible" since it is used by hikers and meditation-seekers. "I'm up for that."

Despite the setback, he isn't up for letting the dream die. "I now have to finish it," he said. "If it was only one person, I could find a reason to stop. these guys are gung-ho. Halting is unfair to them. It's not right not to finish it." His next target is the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos. "I've almost given up on the idea of a plaque physically on the mountain," he said. "I think Hiller will give it more public visibility." "I'm going to put up a plaque somewhere, even if it's in the bloody front of my own house."

O'Donnell said he will get in touch with the Kapell family to seek support, and attend an Oct. 29, Midpeninsula-led anniversary ceremony at the crash site. "My group and myself will be on that walk," he said. "We're serious about this - we're not a bunch of boys playing games."

Interested people can follow the unfolding memorial story - and help with donations - via his Web site, www.flightoftheresolution.org..

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD)

50th Anniversary Resolution Hike

October 25th, 2003

El Corte de Madera Creek 9:00 am - 12:30 pm

Join docents Denise Montlack and Paul Billig to respectfully learn about the events of San Mateo County's worst aviation disaster that occurred here 50 years ago. Many aspects of this beautiful preserve will be shared with you, including a unique geological formation called tafoni. This is a moderate hike of 6.5 miles along the Tafoni, Fir, Resolution, and El Corte de Madera Creek Trails, and includes one long uphill (about 400 feet over 0.7 miles) at the end of the hike. There will be brief breaks to snack along the way. Meet at Skeggs Point, a Caltrans vista point on the east side of Skyline Boulevard, about 4 miles north of La Honda Road (Highway 84) and 1.5 miles south of Kings Mountain Road. Please note that Caltrans prohibits a left turn into the lot when approaching from the north along Skyline Blvd.

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