Flight of the Resolution
My father, Keith Wordsworth, was a Wireless/Air-Gunner in World War Two. He served in Coastal Command in the UK and then back in Northern Australia, mainly in Catalina aircraft. Towards the end of the war he joined Qantas to fly the Perth-Ceylon “Double-Sunrise” route in Catalinas and subsequently joined BCPA as a radio operator.
In November 1950 I was nearly five years old and I still remember vividly the thrill of my life: a “test flight” in a BCPA DC6 Airliner from Mascot Airport in Sydney. This exhilarating experience was my first flight and would forever influence my interests and choice of career.
I remember standing on the tarmac in awe at the size and complexity of the huge four-engine silver airliner; I remember the cockpit; I remember looking out the left hand side of the airplane as the huge engines belched into life, spewing out clouds of white smoke. I remember the roar of the engines as we took to the sky.
Fast forward 60 odd years to literally today when, at Christopher O’Donnell’s request, I started to write about my BCPA memories: I have just found my late father’s logbooks and now realize why I felt goose bumps when I visited the crash site for the 55th anniversary of the accident: my BCPA test flight was on November 7th, 1950 and the aircraft was VH-BPE. (See images on Image page within this web site).
The reason for the test flight is evident from my father’s logbook: On October 20th, 1950 VH-BPE lost #1 engine between Honolulu and Canton Island. Two days later the airplane was ferried back to Sydney via Nadi as a three-engine ferry. In another co-incidence, several years ago I met ex-BCPA Captain John Kessey who relayed the story of losing an engine en-route to Canton Island. Passengers were transferred to another airline and the aircraft was flown back with only three engines operational.
The fateful crash occurred on October 29, 1953 and I still remember the somber atmosphere in our house the day the plane crashed. It was plainly evident that, with a fleet of only 4 aircraft, the odds were that my father could have easily been on board as a crewmember. Also, the airline was small and most crews were known to each other and socialized together during their extended trips away.
Not a lot seems to have been said about the cause of the crash, other than the fact Captain Dickson made a navigational error which these days would be classified as a CFIT (controlled flight into terrain). However, ten years ago, one of my instructors an instrument rating theory course was an ex-Qantas navigator. He gave an interesting insight to a disgraceful bureaucratic practice, which in its own way, had a direct bearing on the accident: the then Australian Department of Civil Aviation following an entrenched practice of imposing their own certification standards, had not gotten around to approving ILS as a landing aid.
In the early 1950’s ILS was the latest state of the art and, with some improvements, is still the standard landing aid in use today, providing accurate lateral and vertical guidance typically for the last 10 NM of an approach. In a cruel twist of fate, VH-BPE was fitted with ILS, but this equipment was made inactive by decree of DCA by pulling the circuit breakers and placarding the equipment as INOP.
The ill-fated flight was cleared by the controller to fly the ILS into San Francisco Airport, however Captain Dickson could not comply with the clearance for no other reason than red tape. He had no alternative but to adopt the relatively difficult and dangerous ADF non-precision approach procedure with disastrous results.
In another co-incidence, my first job out of school in 1964 was working as a junior commercial trainee for Qantas. For several months I worked on the executive floor in Qantas House in Sydney where, among other things, I changed the ink well and blotter for Qantas’ legendary founder, Sir Hudson Fysh, occasionally discussing cricket scores with him. Sometimes I would be asked to post his private mail and I was impressed with the fact he provided his own postage stamps rather than use the airline’s postage. Part of my job was “executive filing” and I well remember handling the file for a court case between William Kapell’s family and Qantas who took over liability from BCPA. Small world…
A few years ago I was searching for information about this crash. After some hunting and leads from some very helpful people in the U.S. I received a copy of the flight incident report (F-112-53), which in itself was fascinating reading.
It took me this long to follow up and try to find a passenger list, and this morning, (after contacting various organisations without success over the months), I stumbled, to my amazement, across your site. On your site I have been able to confirm that my grandfather was one of the passengers.
I am intrigued by all the information on the website collected by your committee and offered by readers in their letters and wish to offer thanks to all contributors for making the information available.
My search began because after recording an oral history interview with my father, I wanted to know more about my grandfather who died in a plane crash in 1953 when my father was 15. I never met him as I was born after he died.
Passenger William Jack Cox was a shop fitter, whose perspex business, ironically, produced vacuum formed nosecones for fighter planes in WWII. By all accounts he was a loving and caring husband and father and an astute and successful businessman with a pleasant demeanour. If you would like more information or photos I'm sure we (me and Dad that is) can make a contribution. I look forward to hearing from you if it’s of interest.
I have forwarded your website to Dad (by paper mail as he's still getting used to the internet) so maybe you'll hear from him too in due course.
Thanks again for all your efforts. You " made my day" today and I will be visiting the site regularly from now on.
Lucinda Cox (Granddaughter of William Jack Cox)
19th August 2008
December 20h, 2007
Mr. Christopher O`Donnell
Like one of your readers (Mr. Jim Bonner of Pleasanton California), I too was only 10 years old at the time of that disastrous crash. Unlike Jim I have never attended the crash site until today when I saw it on your website.
It has brought to me and my brothers some closure to that fateful day 54 years ago, as our father was one of the passengers. His name was BERNARD RICHARD TISCHLER and was on his way to London via the U.S.A., to do a shipping course for a firm in Australia called DALGETY AND CO.
He wanted to go by ship as he had been a sailor in the Royal Australian Navy and was at the time of his death still in the RANR.
I would be only too pleased to send you a photo of him for your memorial or museum and to take this opportunity to thank you and your organisation in maintaining interest in this disaster. If there is anything else I may be able to help you with, please don`t hesitate to contact me.
Grant (Tischler) Carpenter 20th December. 2007
December 12th, 2007
Interesting and very surprised finding your web site on BCPA flight 304 October 1953. I was 2 years old when my father died on this flight. Unfortunately I have no recollection of him but can remember him from the few photos I have of him. It seems very odd that he went through the war in the Navy and not long after met his end. I was in San Francisco in 1983 with the Royal Australian navy and tried to find out where the accident happened but was unsuccessful when searching the San Francisco news papers archives.
I think it is fantastic that after all this time there are people still trying to pay tribute to those lost on this flight. I hope you succeed with your endeavors’.
July 8th, 2005
I was 10 years old and lived in Redwood City in 1953. My dad was a fireman with the San Mateo County Forest Service at the time. He was on one of the crews sent to the site to fight the forest fire caused by the crash. Several days later, my dad took me to see the crash site.
I have looked at the photos on your web site. The crash site looked quite different 50 years ago. The vegetation had all burned away so the wreckage was scattered on the bare ground. At the scene of the main wreckage, I remember seeing at least one of the engines and several wing and empennage sections. As a 10 year old, one of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the sight of pieces of dinnerware among the shredded and melted bits of aluminum. There were also bits of charred cloth.
I remember my dad pointing out the tree that was freshly sheared off. I can still see it in my mind. At the time, the tree was easily seen. The other trees around it weren't as tall as this tree. As I remember, one wing had stopped at a spot well passed the main wreckage. This wing with at least one engine still attached had gone over a small hill and settled in a ravine.
There were a couple of men at the site when we were there. I think they said they were the property owners. We talked with them for a bit. They were wondering how to remove the wreckage. If there are no signs of the engines and props at the site now, at least some of the wreckage must have been removed.
Someone showed me an article in the paper about the 50th anniversary of the crash a couple of years ago. Recently, I came upon the website for the Resolution.
January 25th, 2004
As Assistant Station Manager for British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines at San Francisco I was designated as Principal Company Representative assisting Coroner Paul Jensen in identification of crew remains from VH-BPE RESOLUTION.
I read the articles with great interest but wish to bring to your attention some questionable points. Bruce Dickson was well known by myself and others as one of our more experienced pilots, and in my opinion he was also very quiet, conservative person far removed from the " cowboy mentality" so described. In Chief Pilot Bennet's Official Report as far as I can remember there was no mention of " blatant carelessness" or of Captain Dickson being a " liar”. I should also state that the Australian Air Ministry Inquiry, while concluding pilot error, was unable to prove what the primary contributing factor was leading to that error.
Palo Alto, CA
January 23rd, 2004
When I first heard about the Resolution story, I admit to be ashamed that I had no idea what happened here close-by, virtually in my backyard, 50 years ago. My interest is sparked for a couple of reasons:
1) I love aviation. I learned how to fly sailplanes some time ago, but was mainly ground crew for my husband. From my home in Redwood City I love to watch the jets coming in for approach to SFO from the West. Since I heard about the Resolution story, I just can't look at the planes the same way again.
2) As a musician, although an amateur, my heart goes out to William Kapell for the abrupt ending of his life and his promising career. Just to imagine what his life could have been like, had he stayed on in Honolulu, gives you an eerie feeling.
3) Last but not least, I was born in Hungary and visit my parents living in Budapest often. It would be fascinating to know more about the Feher family. The name is quite common (means the color " white”), so it might be hard to find them. But perhaps you are already in touch with them.
Please keep me posted on any news on the Resolution. I will also check your website often. Your efforts to keep this story alive are indeed very noble.
Ann M. Jona
November 13th, 2003
Thanks for contacting the William Kapell group and bringing to my attention your website on the tragic events of October 29, 1953 near San Francisco. I am a professional classical pianist, and it is primarily due to the still painful loss of that great young artist that I find your efforts and the information you have made available of tremendous interest. Over many years, I have tried to learn what I could about what happened that day, but usually the information is scant, and sometimes contradictory.
Three-and-a-half years ago, I was in the San Francisco area. I was there on business, but my ulterior motive was to find the location of the crash site. From what I had read, I decided I should head to King's Mountain, and area residents were most helpful. I found Resolution Trail, and finally remnants of the wreckage. I felt that it was so odd, so pathetic, that there was absolutely no memorial, no mention made of what had occurred there. I seriously considered returning on the 50th anniversary, figuring some like-minded individuals would show up, but work made this impossible. I am glad there was some sort of memorial event.
Time here is short, and I cannot communicate as much as I had first intended. Just wanted to let you know that I would like to support your efforts, hope to communicate further, and will be checking back regularly.
Tom Wells, TX
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