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Plane mystery on Mt Ainslie

The year is 1943 or thereabouts; a young boy named Bill Guard is hanging with his mates in Ainslie when they observe a plane in trouble. They rush to the site where it touches down and are turned back by official-looking people who brusquely tell them to bugger off.

Many years later Bill tells his nephew, Dave Wheeler, that when they arrived, the plane had already been cordoned off and that it was being examined by men who may have been mechanics or emergency workers.

Dave, who now regrets he didn't press his now deceased uncle for exact details of the landing spot and a description of the plane, has been unable to turn up any references to a plane either crashing or being forced down on the slopes of Mt Ainslie during the war.

Bill's account can't be dismissed as a boyhood fantasy however; a bit of a larrikin in his younger days he seized the opportunity to secure a souvenir.

''Bill and his mates hid behind some nearby bushes to watch the proceedings but they never found out if the pilot or passengers had been killed, injured or walked away,'' Dave told Gang Gang. ''It was wartime and there may have been some secrecy involved as it may have been an RAAF plane.

''When the officials left the scene and night began to fall the boys crawled through the barriers and took souvenirs. Uncle Bill had a screw driver with him and when he saw a nice brass engine plate he unscrewed it and kept it for many years before he passed it on to me.''

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Dave recalls that when he first saw the plate it had a wooden backing behind it. While this has subsequently disappeared, it indicates the object was probably attached to the engine cowling or fuselage and not directly to the engine.

The plate is quite distinctive and identifies the engine as ''Series 2 de Havilland Gipsy Six'' which was in use by aircraft being used by the RAAF at the time. The most likely suspect is a de Havilland 89a Dragon Rapide, nine of which saw service with the air force during the war.

Another possibility is a De Havilland DH-86, a larger and faster plane than the Dragon Rapide which also used the Gipsy Six engine, albeit the Series 1 variant. Eight DH-86s saw service with the RAAF during the war but there is no record of any of these or the Rapides ever making a forced landing in Canberra.

That doesn't mean such an event did not occur, however. Both types, which were mainly used for transporting officers and officials, would have flown into Canberra quite frequently. Bill Guard's home, at 6 O'Connell Street in Ainslie, was not far from the ''saddle'' separating Mt Ainslie from Mt Majura that planes flying in from the north-west would have had to clear to reach Canberra airport.

The Gipsy Six was never used in either the Gypsy Moth or Tiger Moth de Havilland-engined trainers that buzzed around RAAF training airfields by the dozens during the war. Its only application was in large, long-distance passenger and transport aircraft.

Dave Wheeler has made many attempts over the years to get to the bottom of his uncle's wartime adventure. ''I wrote to England trying to find out what sort of plane the engine plate came from,'' he said. ''I was told they didn't have any records that could assist although they did say it was not from a Gypsy Moth.''

RAAF historians are also stumped. ''I did check the information and photos I currently hold on the Dragon Rapide and found no mention of a crash,'' one recently wrote to Dave. ''There were a number of aircraft that were fitted with a Gipsy Six engine and unfortunately I do not have a complete history of these aircraft.''

If any readers can help, please contact Gang Gang at The Canberra Times by emailing david.ellery@fairfax.com.au