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“Highest Mountain”

A Tribute to Flying Officer Lloyd Manning SMITH

(Night flying accident, Malaysia - 4th May 1972.)

Gunung Tahan is the highest mountain on the Malaysian peninsula (2,187 metres). 
Today, one of the landmarks for the regular procession of hikers slogging their way up the trail to the summit is “the plane crash site” where the eerie twisted metal of a 3SQN Mirage, A3-85, can still be seen.

Lloyd Smith climbing in to the cockpit of a Mirage

On the night of 4th of May 1972, Flying Officer Lloyd Smith crashed while conducting an individual radar-navigation exercise, out of Butterworth airbase.

The crater and debris that still remains at the impact site, along the trail ascending to Gunung Tahan.

The exact cause of his crash is still unknown, but since this was a typically challenging 3SQN exercise (which tested the capabilities of both pilot and aircraft, under cover of darkness and squeezing past rugged terrain) any one of a number of small things may have gone wrong at the critical moment.  The Squadron Records (ORB) in the National Archives show that Lloyd’s mates searched intensively for two days until the crash site was located on the side of a sub-peak of the massif (called Gunung Gedung, 1,830m).  Mirage A3-85 had been in service with the RAAF for just over four years.

Formerly a mystery for passing hikers.

3 Squadron was based in Malaysia at that time, but the Squadron had not been directly involved in the nearby Vietnam War.  In this situation, Lloyd’s accident exposed serious flaws in the RAAF’s overseas service compensation arrangements.  The Australian Federal Treasurer eventually resolved this problem by offering compensation to Lloyd’s young wife that was equivalent to that applying in the nearby war zone.  

Mirage A3-85 at Butterworth, showing the Squadron's "Frill-Necked Lizard" symbol of the time.
(Inspired by the so-called "Lizard" camouflage scheme adopted by 3SQN for ground-attack duties.  Picture: ADF Serials.)

Lloyd’s RAAF personnel record shows him to have been a very promising young pilot, well-liked, pleasant and self-confident.  From Lindfield, NSW, Lloyd had enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 16 as an Apprentice Radio Technician, and had been commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1968.  Lloyd had been promoted to Flying Officer in 1970 and posted to 3 Squadron at Butterworth in April 1971.  He was only 25 when he died, leaving behind his pregnant wife Christine.  They had only just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.  

(Lloyd was also survived by a young son from a previous relationship.)

Lloyd's Air Force funeral back in Sydney.


 Pilgrimage to Lloyd's Ethereal Crash-Site.

By Mike SIER

Lloyd SMITH's grandsons explore the crash-site of his Mirage.  Wreckage is still evident at the top of the 2km-high jungle-clad mountain in central Malaysia.

I first heard of the tragic 1972 death of my father, Flying Officer Lloyd SMITH, in 2007.  (I had been adopted-out at birth - possibly because Air Force rules made life difficult for unmarried pilots with babies.)

At some point after 2007, it dawned on me that a pilgrimage to the crash site with James and Luke, my two teenage sons (Lloyd’s grandsons), would be a good idea.

While there is some tourism to the area, it is quite minimal and we had to plan our own way.  After committing to narrow dates in the school holidays, I booked flights and arranged a guide from the Internet.  It turned out that the very narrow school holiday window we had was Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan.  Hence, it was very much like trying to organise a guide for "Christmas Eve through to New Year" in Australia; so we did have some false starts with guides, etc.

During last-minute planning, we realised that the actual crash site was at Gunung Gedung (1,830m) – half a day’s walk along the top of a range from the main peak.

We arranged a four-hour taxi ride from Kuala Lumpur to Gua Musang, a Muslim town in central Malaysia.  It was as hot as Hades and my younger son Luke was heard to remark:

“Why can’t we do ski trips like normal families..?”

We met our guide two days later, at the entrance to the park.  Mr Ming, who spoke some English, was a farmer and walking enthusiast.  We also required a Government Guide (compulsory in the park) and two other Porters – chain-smokers who looked less fit than us.  (Well, maybe less fit than James and Luke!) 

Given the circumstances of the trek, we were treated as minor celebrities at the Parks Office, as the crash site was well known to them.  After driving to the base of the mountain, Day One was a four-hour trek through the humid jungle.  It was relatively flat ground, although we did have four river crossings.  - And I picked up my first leech.

Day Two was a 10-hour walk up the mountain through the jungle.  I found it quite challenging, as most steps, for many hours, were over tree roots somewhere between one and two feet high.  It seemed never-ending, until we got to our camp at Botak, just shy of Mt. Tahan.

The “track” leads ever upwards...

Day Three

After surviving a midnight thunderstorm, we set off for the peak.  After a short scramble to the summit of Gunung Tahan we began a seemingly endless walk along the ridge of the mountain range.  The crash site at Gunung Gedung was now around five hours away and I had planned that we would stay overnight nearby.  However, given Eid, and two restless teenagers, all were insistent that we do a 10-hour round trip.  (Which I wasn’t happy about, as it meant three 10-hour days in a row!) 

There were many gullies and most steps in these were waist-high. 

Typical trek through jungle

Every hilltop yielded false expectations, until we were on a gentle slope down - and some wreckage appeared!  I could scarcely believe we had made it!  – But this was confirmed, as you could see plenty of Mirage aircraft camouflage.

The impact zone was only about 10 feet below the ridge and was bare rock – the only part of the surrounding area that wasn’t totally covered in foliage.  The crash 44 years ago had killed all life.

At that point it struck me that if Lloyd had been flying 25 feet higher – he would still be with us today...

We left a stainless steel plaque, in memory of Lloyd, on a rock just next to the ridge, as a permanent reminder.

On the other side of the ridge was more wreckage that had been strewn by the huge impact.  

We were well above the tree-line, there were no birds and it was so peaceful.  – Totally quiet, apart from a soft breeze.  The clouds were just below us and it felt heavenly.  

It felt a fitting place for a pilot to rest for eternity. 

It also felt like a Moonshot!  - It had taken us six days from Perth to get to this point and we only had 45 minutes at the site before we had to leave on our six-hour slog back to our Botak campsite.

Day Four.  

Again, another thunderstorm directly overhead during the night.  This, combined with Mr Ming’s cheap tent, meant that everything was saturated.  I spent dawn sitting on a rock outside, in my rain jacket, which was the only way I could keep warm!

Shortly we set off for our third 10-hour day, back to our base camp.  (Knees not happy at all by now!)  Big steps down tree roots didn’t help; and all out of Hydralyte by now – although Nurofen supplies still plentiful!

Back at the base of the mountain it felt great!  We enjoyed the freshwater stream.

The stream at Kem Kor base camp.

On Day Five we completed our 4-hour stage back to CIVILISATION!  

It was a memorable trip.  One day, I would like to return and explore the site in more depth.

- Mike Sier.

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