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A second “Summary of Evidence” was taken on the 17-11-1944 (a day later) and in it Sheppard elaborated further:

In Sheppard’s own words, he was at about 5000 ft, he turned to port and set the course given to him. He then went into a gradual dive and after about a minute he came out of the cloud at 3000 ft. Knowing that he was above high ground, why would he descend in cloud? Not only that, simple arithmetic tells you that he was descending at 2000 ft per minute - certainly not a “gradual” descent!

The answer may be that in 1996, he told Chris Rudge (Author of “MISSING”) that he found that his Artificial Horizon was caged and as a consequence of that, he lost control of the aircraft and excited the cloud in a high steep diving turn to the left. Immediately in front of him was a steep bush-covered hill and he had to turn right and pull out of the dive to avoid hitting it. As his engine had corrected itself in the dive, he was able to fly back to Westport.

Sheppard identified this hill to Chris Rudge as being one that lies one mile west of a hill known as Sinclairs Castle. I do believe that Sheppard was mistaken in this identification as it is way too far south... at least 7 nm. He no doubt would have later had a look at a map, saw a shape in the river that looked familiar and identified it from that.

Why had Sheppard not mentioned this in his 1944 statements?  

I think the answer is simple in that he didn’t want to dramatise this anymore than necessary as they were all trying to say as little as they could possibly get away with, as the main basis of the Court Martial was the perceived lack of discipline - so someone forgetting to uncage their AH would not go down well! This is probably why the second statement done by Sheppard a day after the first was much more vague on this matter that the first one. As Sheppard was apparently not involved in the aerobatics at Westport, it tends to make you wonder why his AH was caged anyway... unless he was aerobating overhead Denniston? Reeves commented in his statement that his AH was uncaged, but commented that he didn’t know if Barstow’s was or not. If they hadn’t participated in aerobatics, - then why would they need to cage them anyway??? Surely their pre-take-off checks should have covered this? I don’t know what Sheppard’s flight experience was at this stage, (I found later that it was not that much more than Barstow’s- 319 hours - page 24) but the lack of an AH should not have resulted in loss of control as it is not the only instrument that is necessary for Instrument flying. Sure, it makes it a lot easier, but it should only be used in conjunction with the other instruments, and they should all be used to cross reference each other to ensure the AH is set correctly. The AH is dependent on a mechanical gyro and is prone to wander at times anyway. If anything, if he was relying on just his AH, then it does draw into question their training, although in saying this, in the case of NZ5544 (the other Corsair missing in New Zealand) there was a resulting recommendation for the need of more instrument flying - and that Corsair had flown out from Ardmore also.

To enable calculation to plot this course, we need to bare in mind that it was a minute into the cloud when his motor ran rough, and then it would have taken probably another 1/2 minute to call Reynolds, explain the situation, get permission to return to Westport and then commence turning. By the time this was achieved, he may well have been another 1000’ higher at 6000’ making his descent rate even higher!

If he had come out of the cloud at 3000’ in a high speed dive, it would have taken a lot of altitude to recover seeing as that model Corsair weighed in excess of four tons, so the hill that was “immediately in front of him” would not have needed to be very high. According to my calculations, this Gorge would have been the one 3.86 nm up the Orikaka River (also known as the Mackley).

This Gorge hill is about 1000 ft high and the river is 800 ft below it. If he had approached it in a steep dive, he would have had to turn right to avoid hitting it and there is an area there that would have enabled him to do so. A rate one turn is normal to do in cloud which means it takes one minute to turn 180°. At a guess of the speed Sheppard would have turned at...150 mph (?) this would mean  he would have covered a distance of  2.5 miles... but in a radius - after the 1 1/4 miles extra - making the radio call for permission = 3.75 miles

Blue Line:


1 x Minute,  (3000 to 5000 ft @ 2000 ft,min)

= 2.4 Miles


Brown Line:


30 sec’s (5000 to 6000 ft) = 1.2 miles + 1 x Minute @ Rate One Turn = 2.4 Miles = Total of 3.75 Miles

Page 16

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