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Dark day remembered at RAAF Base Amberley

A RAAF Base Amberley historian recalls the day he heard the wail of the base’s crash sirens start up.

It’s been 50 years since retired Warrant Officer George Hatchman, then Corporal, ran out of the shed he was working in onto the tarmac to witness the dark cloud of smoke rising from the wreckage north of the runway.

On 23 March 2020, family and Defence members marked the 50th anniversary of the tragic Canberra Bomber A84-205 crashed on landing approach to the north of at RAAF Base Amberley.

To mark the occasion a video conference was held between No.23SQN Association Chaplain, Rev. Robert (Bob) Heathwood Chaplain and the family of FLTLT Jacques (Jack) Siffer.

CPL George Hatchman 1970. Images: Defence

Retired Warrant Officer George Hatchman, an avid RAAF Amberley historian who served 33 years on two postings at Amberley during his 50-year RAAF career, joined FLTLT Siffer’s daughter Marianne Bastiani on the telephone for a moving ‘face to face’ video commemorative service.

“I recall that day Marianne’s father was lost. She was only one at the time,” said George, who noted COVID-19 had prevented Marianne Bastiani attending a family anniversary memorial service originally planned to be held at the RAAF Amberley Memorial Gardens.

“I was a young Corporal and 82WG’s T4 Bombsight Specialist carrying out maintenance in one of the 82Wing Igloo Hangars when I heard the wail of the base’s crash sirens start up.

“I rushed out to the tarmac in front of the 1(B) OCU’s Flight Line Hut and saw the pall of dark smoke rise some distance to the north of the airstrip. 

“While gathering my thoughts on the realisation that there were two men in that aircraft, the Squadron’s Senior Engineering Officer arrived in the unit’s dark blue Humber Snipe staff car and rushed into the Flight Line office and gathered all the aircraft’s maintenance documents.”

George said it was one of the ‘darkest days’ he ever experienced while serving in the Air Force.

“It was like a cloud of sombre reflection prevailed over the base for the following days on the loss of the young aircrew and the impact on squadron members and the lost aircrew’s families.

“It was a terribly sad day that one never forgets.”

50 years on from the devastation of the crash, navigator FLTLT Jacques Georges Marie Siffer is remembered with admiration and gratitude as a beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend alongside pilot FLGOFF H. Badower.

The daughter of FLTLT Siffer, Marianne Bastiani (centre) with her daughters during the video commemorative service

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