Six decades on, pain of deaths remains
MAROOCHYDORE Beach holds a special yet tragic place in the hearts of Brian and Barry O'Connor.
It was there, more than 62 years ago, they lost their little brother, Liam. The 11-year-old was one of three people killed when an RAAF Wirraway crashed on to the crowded beach on December 30, 1950.
Yesterday, the two men joined more than 250 people - most of them relatives of the dead and injured - to see a special memorial unveiled on the site.
Brian Rowland vividly recalls enjoying a day on Maroochydore Beach with new friend Liam O'Connor.
It was December 30, 1950 - Mr Rowland's 10th birthday - and he was looking forward to lunch and then an afternoon visit to the pictures.
Then he heard an engine roar and looked up to see an RAAF Wirraway shark patrol plane flying uncomfortably low over Pincushion and heading towards the crowded beach.
"I said 'run, run', but Liam just froze," an emotional Mr Rowland recalled yesterday as he stood on the same spot.
The Wirraway banked, its wing hit the sand and the plane cartwheeled in front of hundreds of terrified beachgoers.
Liam, who Mr Rowland had met just days earlier as they enjoyed the school holidays, was one of three children killed in the worst air tragedy in Maroochydore's history.
Six-year-olds Graham Blair, of Brisbane, and Pauline Probert, of Nambour, also died while another 14 beachgoers were injured.
Mr Rowland narrowly escaped with his life.
"The wreckage hit the sand, like a golf sand wedge, got under my feet and threw me," he said.
"I woke up in my father's arms, with cuts and oil burns to my arm."
Sixty-two years later, Liam's older brothers, Brian and Barry O'Connor, joined Mr Rowland and hundreds of others to remember the tragedy at the new memorial built less than 50 metres from the crash site.
Records tell how one young onlooker, since deceased, described the "total silence and then the screams of anguish of those on the beach" as the "white sand turned to red".
Brian O'Connor said the memorial would have had a considerable impact on his mother, if she were still alive.
"She would have got very emotional about it," he said.
"Liam was the youngest. He had the nicest nature of the three of us.
"It was particularly sad for my mother. She never really recovered from the loss. She was dead two-and-a-half years later."
Mr O'Connor conducted 20 years of research into the tragedy and was instrumental in a recent decision by Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie in ordering a fresh coronial inquest into the crash.
But yesterday's ceremony was about remembering those affected by the tragedy.
Shirley Birtwhistle, a sister of Graham Blair, clutched his photo as tears welled.
"I remember someone saying 'I think this plane is going to crash'," she said.
"Then I remember seeing my mother with my brother's head in her lap."
Shirley Rutledge reflected on the loss of her sister Pauline Probert, who died on the beach not long before she was herself born.
"It's very sad," Ms Rutledge said.
"You look at her photos and you think it would have been great to get to know her and have her as an older sister.
"It brings it all back when they talk about it. I had a tear in my eye today. At least people now have somewhere to come and remember."