Harvey Else, Fixed Wing and Helicopter Pilot

Antarctica 1964-65 & 1968-69 and Australia 1968-71

Harvey Else flying over the Simpson Desert in 1968.


Harvey Else flew Helicopter Utilities’ jet helicopters in support of National Mapping Aerodist ground marking and measuring operations in the Simpson, Tanami and Great Sandy Deserts in 1968 and 1971.  He also supported Natmap activities in other parts of Australia and Antarctica.  Harvey was a master aviator: certainly at the top of the list of pilots who flew for National Mapping.  He handled his aircraft with exceptional skill and was an exacting navigator and flight planner.  Little if anything was left to chance with Harvey; whether in preparation, in flight or on the ground.  Generally his flights commenced the day before departure when Harvey would confer with the party leader on the following day’s tasks, where relevant advising on the most efficient sequencing of flights.  Harvey would then plan each flight for the following day in detail: marking routes on topographic maps including 10 mile markers to allow him to check speed across the ground.  Before taking off he would seek wind and weather information from flight services and would regularly check drift as each flight proceeded.  Seemingly constantly map reading, recalculating speed, checking heading and ETA while strictly maintaining altitude, Harvey always knew where his helicopter was and could always give timely and accurate information on the progress of his flights.  Harvey fitted in well with Nat Map field party members, provided good company and was popular with all Nat Mappers around the survey camps.

Harvey Lee Else was born to a mid-north coast pioneering family at Taree on 14 December 1928.  Harvey was the youngest son of Frederick William Else (1893-1952) and his wife Ida Malena (nee Nixon, 1893-1968).  Harvey’s three older brothers were Jack, Alan and Lindsay.  Sadly Alan died at Cundletown in 1946 aged 23 years.  It appears that relatives of Harvey’s parents had been in the area since the 1870s.  Both the Elses and the Lees (on Harvey’s mother’s side) were listed in the Port Macquarie entry in Greville’s 1872 Postal Directory.

Else Garage Cundletown

From the 1920s until his death at age 59 years, Fred Else operated a motor and electrical engineering business in Cundletown on the corner of what is now Else and Main Streets.  (Cundletown, once a steamer port, is located on the Manning River near Taree.)  Else’s garage provided the first electricity supply in Cundletown.  Initially for the garage’s own power needs, the supply was progressively extended to many other homes prior to the town being connected to the state electricity grid in 1950.  The Else family continued to operate the garage after Fred died in 1952.  The business site remained in family ownership until mid-2013 and operated as a United fuels service station.

School and marriage to Lilian Bidner

Harvey attended Cundletown Primary School and Taree High School.  Harvey decided to cease formal schooling in 1944.  Apparently neither school provided Harvey with a particularly agreeable educational experience.  Harvey completed his Leaving Certificate some time after his high school years.  In 1955, Harvey married Rosa Lilian Bidner of Krambach.  They later had three children; Julianne, Tanya, and Roger.

Movie picture production and television news work

From childhood, Harvey developed an interest in movie picture production and exhibition at various public venues in the Taree area.  In the early 1940s, Harvey captured films with his father’s 9.5 mm format movie camera.  By the end of World War II he had progressed to a 16 mm format camera and a soundtrack.  An enhanced version of Harvey’s early 1950s film, East to the Sea, about events around the Taree area was rescreened in 2009 at a local historical society event in Taree.

After public television broadcasts commenced in Australia in the mid-1950s, Harvey became a Taree district news correspondent for the then Australian Broadcasting Commission.  Some years later, Harvey also became a correspondent for the Network Ten television organisation.  A number of Harvey’s films have been shown on ABC and Network Ten television stations.

Learning to fly at Old Bar with Col King

From around 1946, Harvey learned to fly with his lifelong friend (and fourth brother) Col King.  Their training flights were from a largely undeveloped landing ground at Old Bar located to the south of the Manning River’s southern mouth about 10 km east of Cundletown.  Harvey’s BSA motorbike was often used to ferry the student pilots to training sessions conducted by Alan Jones and other flight instructors from the Newcastle Aero Club.  Harvey and Col trained in an ex-RAAF Avro 643 Mark 11 Cadet: a 1930s biplane trainer aircraft powered by a 150 horse power Armstrong Siddeley Genet radial engine with a wooden propeller.  The Cadet was an open cockpit two seater with dual controls and full aerobatic capability.

Flying with the Manning River Aero Club

Harvey’s commenced his commercial flying as a flight instructor at aero clubs where he gained thousands of hours experience in visual and instrument flight training on single and twin engine aircraft.  Soon after the Taree airport opened down the road from the Else garage around 1960, Harvey became one of the founding members of the Manning River Aero Club where he later became Chief Flight Instructor. 

Serious accident in a Ryan STM-2

On 6 April 1961, Harvey was nearly killed in the crash of an open cockpit high performance Ryan STM-2 (VH-WEB).  The aircraft had previously served with the Netherlands East Indies Navy and the RAAF (where it was designated A50-27).  Following an engine failure just before landing at Taree, the owner-pilot attempted an impossible glide to the airstrip.  To avoid a catastrophic stall, Harvey assumed control and landed in a paddock beside the highway.  During the high speed landing, the undercarriage dug in and the aircraft flipped over and was destroyed.  Sadly, the owner was killed and Harvey lay in a coma for some days.

Flying with the Airfast Group 1964-72

In 1964, Harvey joined the Australian-owned Airfast Group as a trainee helicopter pilot whist continuing to fly fixed-wing aircraft.  He was to remain with Airfast for several years.  Airfast’s operations extended from South Korea, through south-east Asia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, all parts of Australia and across the Pacific to the Solomon Islands and Fiji.  Harvey flew in most (but not all) of these operational areas.  Accordingly, it is not possible to give a full account of his flying history.  As well as all parts of Papua New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, Harvey flew for Airfast in the Solomon Islands and parts of Irian Jaya as well as Australia and Antarctica.

In Australia, Harvey’s Airfast flying included supporting BHP geological surveys and the Hydro Electricity Commission’s preparations for construction of the dam at Lake Pedder in Tasmania.  During one flight in Tasmania Harvey was carrying a load of 100 pound gas cylinders in a Bell Jet Ranger when the cabin filled with smoke.  Fearing a fire on board, Harvey declared an emergency while he looked desperately for a suitable landing site in the rugged, tree covered country below.  Fortunately, Harvey had adhered to the maxim that a pilot should remain situationally aware and recalled there was a disused landing site on a nearby mountain top.  Luckily the aircraft engine continued to deliver power and Harvey was able to land safely.  It was later discovered that an oil seal had failed and engine oil was leaking into the compressor and being burnt.  If smoke hadn’t entered the cabin, the leak would have gone undetected until the oil supply was exhausted and the engine seized from lack of lubrication.  Given the lack of suitable landing sites such an outcome could have resulted in a desperate situation.

Some of Harvey’s other Airfast work involved transponder simulations for spacecraft tracking (including for the Apollo 13 lunar mission) at the Tidbinbilla deep space facility near Canberra; lantana spraying from Newcastle to north of Kempsey; insect control spraying on cotton crops around Kununarra; geological surveys for diamond mining in the Kimberley and for copper around Mount Isa; numerous gravity and mapping surveys; servicing gas and oil platforms in Bass Strait, construction works and more.

Tragedy on Cape York Peninsula during gravity survey work

In June 1966, Harvey was senior pilot in a major gravity survey by contractors for the Commonwealth Government’s Bureau of Mineral Resources.  The survey extended from Arnhem Land, over the Cape York Peninsula, across Torres Strait to the south coast of New Guinea and included the islands and sand bars in Torres Strait and the Coral Sea.  During this task, one of the Bell 47G helicopters (VH-UTB) became overdue whilst engaged on the Cape York Peninsula section of the survey.  The missing helicopter was piloted by Harvey’s friend Bim Edwards and also carried Clyde Thomson who was the gravity meter reader on the aircraft.  After an extensive search, Harvey managed to locate the wreckage of the missing aircraft the following day.  It had hit a tree on takeoff and caught fire after crash landing.  Sadly, Harvey found that Bim Edwards had died of burns and Clyde Thomson was missing.

Harvey managed to track Clyde through the grass to a creek where he found him lying down, terribly burnt, almost naked and covered in big ants.  Clyde had been thrown clear of the aircraft when it crashed but courageously went back into the burning wreckage to release Bim Edwards.  Harvey flew the badly injured Clyde to Aurukun Mission.  Late in the afternoon and not far from this destination, Harvey heard on the aircraft radio that an Ansett Airlines DC3 was taxiing for takeoff from Aurukun to Cairns.  Harvey knew that to have the best chance of survival Clyde had to quickly reach an emergency medical care facility at a major hospital.  While still approaching the mission, Harvey contacted the DC3 pilot and arranged for departure to be delayed so the DC3 could evacuate Clyde to Cairns that afternoon.  Harvey flew back to the crash site that same afternoon to recover the body of Bim Edwards. 

(Fortunately, Clyde Thomson survived and was awarded the George Medal for his valiant attempt to save the life of his pilot Bim Edwards.  Clyde later learnt to fly to help overcome the terrible trauma of the helicopter accident.  He went on to become the senior pilot with the Royal Flying Doctor Service at Broken Hill.)

Engine failures on gravity survey

In July 1966 while still working on the BMR gravity survey, Harvey’s Bell 47G-2 Helicopter (VH-UTA) suffered a partial engine failure.  He had just taken off from a small clearing amongst heavy timber between Charters Towers and Townsville.  Surrounded by tall trees Harvey had seemingly nowhere for an emergency landing.  Fortunately, he had started to turn soon after takeoff and was able to complete the turn and crash land down wind into the clearing he had just left.  Harvey knew from aviation protocol and bitter experience that attempts to complete emergency landings back on to the take off points often end in disastrous stalls.  Luckily, he had already started to turn before losing engine power.  Unfortunately, flexing of the main rotor on landing damaged the tail rotor.  There were no injuries but Harvey had to spend the night in the bush and was recovered by vehicle the next day.  VH-UTA was also recovered by vehicle and removed to Sydney for repairs.

Just a short time later, Harvey’s luck continued to hold after suffering another engine failure in a Bell 47G-2 on the Seaview Range near Ingham.  This time there was no suitable landing site and Harvey had to put the aircraft down amongst light saplings with resultant damage to the aircraft’s main and tail rotors.  Again there were no injuries but a there was another forced night in the bush until he was recovered by vehicle the next day.

Flying in Antarctica 1964-65

During his time with the Airfast Group (of which Helicopter Utilities was a part), Harvey spent two summer seasons in Antarctica where he flew in support of Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.  His first expedition was for the 1964-65 summer season as a pilot for ANARE’s DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver (VH-PGL).  Prior to departure, Harvey undertook training and endorsement on the Beaver and its equipment at Sydney’s Rose Bay with fellow Beaver pilot John Whiting.  (John Whiting had been a Squadron Leader with No 76 Squadron RAAF at Milne Bay in New Guinea during World War II.)  The training included operating the aircraft on floats, using its retractable skis and undertaking long photographic flights using the aircraft’s onboard trimetrogon camera system (that took simultaneous vertical and left and right oblique images).  During this training Harvey and John flew the Beaver to Cootamundra to consult with Doug Leckie on flying conditions in Antarctica.  (Doug had previously flown in Antarctica and had commanded the Royal Australian Air Force Flight there.  He later flew Forrester Stephen’s Pilatus Porter fixed-wing aircraft in Antarctica.)

As well as the Beaver, three of Helicopter Utilities’ Bell 47G-2 helicopters (VH-UTA, VH‑UTB and VH-UTC) travelled south on the MV Nella Dan to support the 1964-65 summer expedition.  The Nella Dan departed Melbourne on 22 December 1964 and returned to Hobart on 15 March 1965. The helicopter pilots were John Arthurson who was senior pilot, George Treatt and Brian Saw.  (John Arthurson had been a Royal Australian Air Force fighter pilot in Korea and had flown for Nat Map in Papua New Guinea and George Treatt had flown for Nat Map in both Australia and Paua New Guinea.)  Aircraft engineers were Ron See and Lindsay Smith.  The three helicopters flew a total of 394 hours and 20 minutes in 342 separate sorties.

The Beaver was based at Rumdoodle airstrip about 20 miles from the Mawson base.  From there it did aerial photography flights over the Prince Charles Mountains and supported the helicopters positioning surveyors and geologists in the field.  On 7 February 1965, the Beaver flew some 60 miles out to sea from Edward VIII Gulf to meet the Nella Dan. However, after landing near the ship and later preparing for take-off the Beaver broke through the sea ice and the three persons on board had to be rescued from the freezing water.  The aircraft was recovered and returned to DeHavilland in Australia for repair. During the expedition the Beaver had flown a total of 66 hours in 32 sorties (34 hours on survey work, 22 hours on photography, 6 hours on reconnaissance and 4 hours on geology work).

Back to Australia and turbine helicopter flying

In early February 1967, Harvey was involved in rescue operations during the southern Tasmanian bushfire disaster during which over 60 lives were lost.  Flying in gale force winds and near-blinding smoke at South West Cape, Harvey lifted two people to safety from the bushfire.  (Sadly the couple lost their home in Hobart to the bushfire.)  Later in 1967, Harvey did conversion training to become endorsed as a pilot on jet powered helicopters.  After gaining his endorsement he spent some time flying to off shore oil platforms.

Helicopter check and training captain

In 1968, Harvey underwent intensive training under Chief Pilot Peter Hunt to become a helicopter check and training captain.  Later he carried out this role with Airfast operations within Australia as well as in South-East Asia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons. 

Flying for National Mapping in Australia 1968 - Northern Territory

Also in 1968, Harvey supported National Mapping’s Aerodist ground marking operations as the pilot of a Fairchild-Hiller FH-1100 helicopter (VH-UHD) in the Tanami and Simpson Deserts of the Northern Territory.  While working on this assignment in the northern Simpson Desert the transmission on the Hiller failed.  It was subsequently replaced in the field by engineer John More.  While enduring the unscheduled wait for the new transmission to arrive, the survey party’s supplies began to run low.  However, the party leader was initially reluctant to initiate resupply action; apparently he believed the party could be sustained on galahs and rice if necessary.

The Pine Gap assignment

In 1968, Harvey was authorised to carry out a short sub-contract while waiting in Alice Springs to join the Nat Map Aerodist ground marking party in the Simpson Desert. The sub-contract involved ferrying some United States officials around the Alice Springs area and disembarking one such official at the Joint Defence Facility located at Pine Gap just to the south-west of Alice Springs.  Apparently this particular flight was of some concern for the local flight services staff due to local air space restrictions over the defence facility.

Flying for National Mapping over off-shore Queensland in 1968

Towards the end of 1968 Harvey was based at Gladstone on the central Queensland coast where Helicopter Utilities operated a tourist transfer service to the nearby Heron Island resort. In late October and early November 1968, Harvey undertook several casual charter flights from the Gladstone base to support Nat Map's extension of the Aerodist Great Barrier Reef survey in what became Aerodist Block 23. This field survey work was supported by the Royal Australian Navy's (ex Royal Navy) Ton Class minesweepers HMAS Gull and HMAS Hawk and other vessels.

Nat Mapper John Ely recalled being positioned by Harvey (in Fairchild Hiller FH1100 helicopter VH-UHE) from Rockhampton on to RAN survey mark C 060 on High Peak Island in the Northumberland Isles. This flight occurred on 31 October 1968. The survey mark was located in the Coral Sea about 160 km off shore to the north-west of Rockhampton. The survey mark was on the top of a feature that rose abruptly some 725 feet from the sea. There was a very narrow area near the station mark where most pilots would not consider landing. But Harvey was not like most other pilots. He put the aircraft down but in the updraught from the prevailing strong south-westerly wind over the ridge the aircraft needed to be held under power; just one skid was touching the ground. John said it was a significant feat of airmanship.

After the surveying equipment was unloaded, Harvey landed the aircraft in a small saddle below the survey mark so it would not obstruct the survey measurements. Harvey then climbed back up to the survey station and helped John clear some vegetation to improve the landing site. The cleared light brush was thrown over the ridge so it was out of the way. The updraught was so strong the brush had a tendency to go up rather than down before being carried off in the wind. During the flight back to Rockhampton, the aircraft landed at some fishers' shacks near Reef Point to the north of the Peninsula Range. The shacks were on the mainland coast at Strong Tide Passage opposite Townshend Island about 45 km south of High Peak Island. Here Harvey refuelled the helicopter from a drum of aviation turbine kerosene that had been previously positioned by Nat Map.

Early in November 1968, helicopter VH-UHE under Harvey Else was again chartered to position a four-person station establishment and Aerodist remote field sub-party from Bundaberg to Sandy Cape about 100 kilometres to the east. The field sub-party comprised Nat Mappers Terry Douglas, Ian Ogilvie, Ken Manypenny and Ragnar Berg. This sub-party was recovered from Sandy Cape in a chartered yacht and some of its members were transferred to Lady Elliot Island.

On 13 November 1968, helicopter VH-UHE under Harvey Else was chartered from Gladstone to ferry Nat Mapper Graeme Lawrence from Sandy Cape to North Reef Island lighthouse located about 120 kilometres east of Yeppoon. After ferrying to North Reef Island, Harvey flew the helicopter back to Gladstone.

Flying in Antarctica 1968-69

During the summer of 1968-69, Harvey again supported ANARE by flying a Fairchild-Hiller FH-1100 turbine powered helicopter.  For that season Helicopter Utilities provided three Hiller aircraft, namely: VH-UHD, VH-UHE and VH‑UTZ.  As well as Harvey, the aircrew comprised Chief Pilot Peter Hunt (a former RAN Fleet Air Arm pilot) and Brian Harriss.  The engineers were Joe Gaston and Frank Tarr.  As well as reconnaissance flights to guide their supply ship MV Nella Dan through the ice to clear water, the helicopters assisted with the unloading of the ship.  They positioned stores and personnel to establish a base near Landing Bluff on the Amery Ice Shelf from which they operated in support of a survey for 49 days. 

From Landing Bluff, the helicopters operated up to 200 miles south-west to position surveyors and geologists in to the Prince Charles Mountains.  After work at Landing Bluff was complete, the MV Nella Dan ferried the expeditioners and their equipment and aircraft some 300 miles west of Mawson base for a crew change there. Towards the end of the season, Harvey was also involved in providing helicopter support for the reopening of Davis base.  Good weather and aircrew diligence during the season as well as the unscheduled resupply of the French Antarctic station at Dumont d’Urville aided in achieving a record of 407 hours of helicopter flying time.

(A Beaver DHC-2T turbo prop fixed wing aircraft - VH-UKL - charted by ANARE from DeHavilland at Bankstown was also used for aerial support in conjunction with the helicopters during the 1968-69 season.  This was the first time a turbine fixed-wing aircraft had been used by ANARE.  Piloted by Tony Mousinho, it operated in the Prince Charles Mountains from 4 January to 14 February 1969 and was based at Landing Bluff.  The aircraft’s flying time for the season was 91 hours.)

Unscheduled resupply of French Antarctic station at Dumont d’Urville

Harvey’s season had a final unscheduled and onerous task.  As the Nella Dan was homeward bound from Mawson to Macquarie Island, word came that its sister ship MV Thala Dan was unable to resupply the French Antarctic station at Dumont d’Urville due to icing of the sea.  Harvey and Peter Hunt in separate helicopters spent a mammoth 20 hours of non-stop flying to ferry personnel and supplies over the 70 miles between the Thala Dan and Dumont d’Urville.  These flights over the south magnetic pole had the compass needle in both aircraft swinging around the dial making the magnetic compass useless as a navigation aid.  Sea conditions were becoming a concern and the Nella Dan headed north as soon as the two helicopters returned; the aircraft had to be secured in pitching seas under blizzard conditions after the vessel was underway.  This was on 18 March 1969.  Harvey was totally exhausted and was the only person on the ship unable to attend the celebrations that followed a radio message that confirmed the much-anticipated birth of Roger, Harvey and Lilian’s son.

Recognition for service in Antarctica

For his service during his two seasons in Antarctica, Harvey had two geographical features named after him.  Else Nunataks a group of six partially snow-covered rocks about 12 km west of Rayner Peak in Kemp Land was named for Harvey as a Beaver pilot in 1965.  Else Nunataks are located at 67 degrees 21 minutes south latitude and 55 degrees 40 minutes east longitude.  Else Platform is an elevated, flat-topped mass of rock at the northern end of Jetty Peninsula in Mac Robertson Land.  It was named after Harvey as a helicopter pilot on the Prince Charles Mountains survey in 1969.  Else Platform is located at 70 degrees 24 minutes south latitude and 66 degrees 48 minutes east longitude.

Disaster averted in Papua New Guinea

Later in 1969, Harvey spent some time flying in Papua New Guinea.  Some of his flying in this period was far from just being routine and was both lucky and very skilful.  On 17 May 1969, Harvey’s helicopter suffered a major engine failure but he was able to execute an emergency landing and put the aircraft down gently on the edge of a swamp; the only clear spot in an otherwise jungle covered area.  On 22 May 1969, Harvey was ferrying four native workers in a Fairchild-Hiller FH-1100.  The workers were urgently needed at a work site and owing to adverse weather; Harvey was forced to follow a river, cruising at about 120 knots some 200 feet above the ground trapped below a virtual fog bank of cloud.  Fortunately the cloud began to lift and Harvey was able to ascend.  Just as he reached 2,000 feet there was a loud crack and the helicopter dived to the left and entered a spin, almost rolling on its back. 

The aircraft had lost drive to its tail rotor due to a broken coupling.  Harvey skilfully worked the controls and brought the aircraft out of the spin by 1,200 feet and then executed an emergency but gentle ditching into the river.  Fortunately the aircraft was equipped with floats.  Had the drive coupling failure occurred when cruising at 200 feet and 120 knots, survival would not have been possible.

Emergency medical evacuation in the dark

Just two days later, Harvey had to undertake a late afternoon rescue of a native worker who had a six-inch thorn in his eye.  Owing to failing light, mist and rain showers Harvey could not reach a nearby hospital and was forced to follow a river at low altitude back to his work camp where there was an experienced male nurse.  To guide his landing, Harvey radioed to have the four corners of the landing pad illuminated.  However, the weather conditions and the tall jungle trees beside the river (that Harvey had to follow to find his way) hid the helicopter landing pad lights from his view.  Harvey again radioed his engineer to listen for the sound of the approaching helicopter and advise when it was adjacent to the camp.  Fortunately, this communication arrangement worked and Harvey was able to raise the aircraft above the trees beside the river and set it down on the lighted landing pad.  (If the arrangement had failed Harvey would have been left in the dark with no visual reference.)  It was a happy ending as the native’s eye was saved and he later took a job with the survey party.

Going down in the sea twice in 1970

In 1970, Harvey twice defied the clutches of King Neptune.  In the first incident Harvey suffered an engine failure in a Bell Jet Ranger over Bass Strait some seven miles from a Barracuda gas field platform off shore from Gippsland.  With four other persons on board he had to ditch the aircraft in mountainous seas.  Harvey managed to get everyone on board into the emergency life raft and they were soon rescued by another helicopter.

The second incident occurred on 24 November 1970.  Flying a Bell Augusta 204B helicopter (PK-OAU) on a long flight back from a drilling ship, Harvey was in a severe rain and electrical storm over the Arafura Sea off Kiamana in Indonesia’s West Papua Province.  He was waiting to land on the mother ship Eastern Supplier while low on fuel.  However, another helicopter was already on deck and Harvey had to hold at about 50 knots until the other aircraft’s blades stopped turning and were secured.  Suddenly, Harvey’s helicopter was struck by lightning and hit the sea.  Harvey recalled being about to hit the water and later realised he was strapped in his seat and water was pouring over him at such a rate he feared he would drown.  The water surface was red from blood and turbine oil and the sea abounded with hammerhead sharks.  Harvey couldn’t move his numb left leg and realised it was trapped under the instrument panel by a damaged floor panel.  Desperate, he kicked hard with his right foot on the damaged panel and was free.  Still bleeding, feeling giddy and suffering nausea, he shut down the aircraft’s fuel and other services while awaiting rescue from his still floating aircraft.  He was taken by barge to the mother ship but then largely left to tend his injuries alone until being evacuated to Darwin and later to Sydney.

Harrowing recovery task in the New Guinea highlands

Between the two incidents at sea in 1970, Harvey had a six weeks assignment based from Goroka in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea.  From there he flew to landing sites as high as 10,000 feet or more above sea level.  Afterwards he was transferred to Wewak on the northern coast to support a seismic survey.  Harvey had only been on the new task a few days when the helicopter he had been flying suffered a mechanical failure and crashed, killing the three persons on board.  Harvey had to fly to a landing pad at around 8,000 feet near the crash site to recover the three bodies and fly them to Goroka.  It was a harrowing task; the dead pilot was Harvey’s friend Bill Vennables who Harvey had trained.

Flying with National Mapping in 1971

Harvey continued with Airfast assignments in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons in 1971.  Between 17 May and mid-September that year, he supported National Mapping’s Aerodist measuring party by flying a Hughes 500 helicopter (VH-UHO).  The Aerodist contract started at Halls Creek, Western Australia and the last field camp was on Lake Nash station in the Northern Territory to the south of Camooweal. 

During Harvey’s stints, other base camps were at Christmas Creek, Rabbit Flat, survey control station NM/G/132 north-west of Vaughan Springs homestead, at survey control station NM/F/595 near Balgo Mission and another camp south of the Mission near Point Moody.  Along with a number of Nat Mappers, Harvey was at the remote Rabbit Flat roadhouse settlement with owners Bruce and Jacqui Farrands on the night of Wednesday 30 June 1971.  On that night, Bruce Farrands had to collect the Census details of all people present for the 1971 Census of Population and Housing; the survey party’s presence gave an over tenfold increase in the tiny settlement’s population.  (During this Nat Map contract, Harvey was supported by engineers Frank Summers and John More.  From mid‑July to mid-August he was relieved by pilot Brian Harriss with engineer Jack Fackrell.)

Engine failure at low level at Lake Nash

On the afternoon of Saturday 11 September 1971, Harvey was about to land at Lake Nash when a willy-willy started to blow through the helicopter camp.  To avoid the wind and dust storm Harvey decided instead of landing to go around.  Just as he was taking off from a hover around 30 feet or so above the ground, the compressor on VH-UHO failed.  Owing to Harvey’s procedures and emergency efforts, the aircraft landed in normal attitude without damage. 

Unfortunately, due to the suddenness of the engine shut down before landing, flexing of the main rotor blades cut off the tail boom and the tail rotor shattered as it fell onto the ground.  Neither Harvey nor the bystanders on the ground (engineer John More and Nat Mappers Michael Lloyd and Laurie McLean) were injured. 

Early the next week, a Bell 206A Jet Ranger (VH-ANC) replaced the damaged Hughes aircraft and Harvey continued supporting Aerodist operations until 16 September 1971.  The Aerodist party then headed to Cairns to continue surveying in the Coral Sea.  Harvey flew VH-ANC to Bowen and commenced map examination work.  He eventually concluded the National Mapping contract at Rockhampton on 28 September 1971.  

(VH-ANC had been quickly taken off Airfast’s Gladstone to Heron Island tourist run and came in full luxury trim including floats.  VH-UHO was not badly damaged in the 11 September incident and was soon repaired and had its certificate of airworthiness restored on 1 October 1971.  Tragically in March 1973 it suffered another compressor failure near Coolgardie and crashed on takeoff.  The pilot and two of his three passengers were seriously injured with one of these passengers, Robert Graeme Jamieson, later dying from his injuries.  The aircraft was destroyed in the crash.)

Return to Cundletown

Around 1972, Harvey returned to Cundletown to run the family garage and to resume as Chief Flight Instructor at the Manning River Aero Club.  Harvey continued to undertake helicopter work on a casual basis.  One assignment was providing helicopter support for the filming of George Miller’s cult film Mad Max 2 that was shot around Broken Hill and Silverton in the middle of 1981.  (One day on this assignment, just after Harvey had made a routine air traffic radio call; the pilot of another aircraft in the area requested the name of the helicopter pilot on frequency.  The request came from Clyde Thomson; it was the first time they had spoken in the 15 years since the tragic accident on Cape York.  They met face-to-face in Broken Hill soon afterwards.  Clyde went on to become Executive Director of the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s south eastern region based at Broken Hill.  He gained a Master of Business Administration degree from Monash University in 1992 and was awarded a fellowship to study at Harvard University in 2003. In June 2014, Clyde was made a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to community health, particularly through the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.)

Medical recovery

In 1986, Harvey underwent a quadruple coronary artery by-pass graft operation and later achieved another Australian first by having his commercial pilot’s licence medical clearance reinstated.  Harvey eventually gave up flying around 1992.

Some flying career reflections

During a flying career that spanned over 45 years, Harvey Else logged some 12,000 hours on fixed-wing aircraft and 4,500 hours on helicopters.  Over 11,500 hours of Harvey’s fixed-wing flying was as a flight instructor on both single and twin engine aircraft.  He was the first flight instructor in Australia to become an Approved Test Officer. 

Initially, this status permitted Harvey to issue trainee pilots with their private pilots’ licenses.  Later it also allowed him to issue commercial pilots’ licenses to qualifying pilots.  Harvey was also authorised to test pilots for the renewal of their instrument rating for which there was a mandated requirement of six-monthly renewal testing for pilots operating under Instrument Flight Rules.  As, mentioned earlier in this article, Harvey was also a helicopter check and training captain for Airfast’s turbine and piston engine helicopter pilots.

Developments in 2013

In early 2013, Harvey made the rather melancholy decision to sell the site of the Else garage that had been in family ownership for some 90 years.  Harvey and Lilian continue to live in semi-retirement at Cundletown and remain active with family and community involvements.  Harvey still maintains a keen interest in photography and multimedia productions.


Prepared by Laurie McLean in consultation with Harvey Else, 2013, updated 2017.



Anonymous (1872), Port Macquarie entry in The Greville Postal Directory (New South Wales) 1872, accessed at: http://www.family.joint.net.au/index.php?cid=418&mid=1

Anonymous (1930), The Bulga and Cundletown entries in Wilson’s Road, Rail and Sea Guide to the North Coast and Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Wilson’s Publishing Company Limited, Sydney, 1 May 1930, pp 96-99, accessed at: http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/69377/Pages_from_94-100_Wilsons_Rail,_Road_and_Sea_Guide-18.pdf

Anonymous (1946), Alan Stuart Else death notice, in The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 3 August 1946, accessed from National Library of Australia Trove web site at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/17989796

Anonymous (1952), Frederick William Else death notice, in The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 24 May 1952, accessed from National Library of Australia Trove web site at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/18265921

Anonymous (1986), The Antarctic and Australian Aviation, article in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 6, No 2, December 1986, pp 37‑40, ANARE Club Melbourne.

Anonymous (1986), The Antarctic and Australian Aviation, article in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 6, No 2, December 1986, pp 37‑40, ANARE Club Melbourne.

Anonymous (1987), The Antarctic and Australian Aviation, article in Aurora ANARE Club Journal, Volume 7, No 1, September 1987, pp 26‑29, ANARE Club Melbourne.

Anonymous (2009), Harvey Else Focus Interview, in the Manning-Great Lakes Focus Magazine, Taree NSW, Issue 26, April 2009.

Anonymous (undated), Family Tree: Frederick William Else and Ida Malena Nixon, accessed at: http://stuart.scss.dyndns.info/FamilyTree/family.php?famid=F14023&ged=Gregory-Hudson.ged

Anonymous (undated), Avro 643 Mark11 Cadet A36-34, entry on RAAF Museum web site, accessed at: http://www.airforce.gov.au/raafmuseum/exhibitions/hangar180/avro.htm

Anonymous (undated), ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers, RAAF A95 DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver, accessed at: http://www.adf-serials.com.au/2a95.shtml

Anonymous (undated), ADF Aircraft Serial Numbers, RAAF A50 Ryan STM-2, accessed at: http://www.adf-serials.com.au/2a50.shtml

Anonymous (undated), VH-WEB Ryan STM entry in Ed Coates Collection, accessed at: http://www.edcoatescollection.com/ac1/austmz/VH-WEB.html

Anonymous (undated), Mad Max 2 1981 full cast and crew credits on IMDb website, accessed at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082694/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

Australian Antarctic Data Centre (2013), Place names search on Else, accessed at: https://data.aad.gov.au/aadc/places/search.cfm?search_text=Else&search_aus_gaz=true&search_scar_gaz=true&page=3&submit_btn=Search&search_gebco_gaz=true&search_informal_gaz=true&search_subant_gaz=true

Blamey, Ted (2003), HCA’s two Non Profit Fellowship Fellows headed off to Harvard in early July with impressive credentials, in Club News, Harvard Club of Australia, September 2003, page 5, accessed at: http://hcag.org.au/Club%20News/HCA_ClubNewsSept2003.pdf

Else, Harvey Lee (1972), The Map Makers.  An article on the 1971 National Mapping helicopter contract published in the Airfast News 1972, accessed at: http://www.xnatmap.org/adnm/docs/mapm/mapm.htm

Else, Harvey Lee (2006), Helicopter Operations: Some of Our Work Flying Helicopters, self made DVD of 43 minutes duration.

Else, Harvey Lee (2013), Personal communications, March-May 2013.

King, Colin George (2001), Luck is No Accident: Flying in War and Peace 1946-1986, Australian Military History Publications, Loftus NSW, ISBN 1876439203.

Treatt, George Vernon (2013), Personal communications April-May 2013.

Yeend, Frank E, (1974), Aircraft Accident Investigation Report Summary for crash of Hughes 369 HS helicopter VH-UHO 26 miles north north-west of Coolgardie on 8 March 1973, accessed at: http://www.atsb.gov.au/media/25090/197305320.pdf