"They shot us down with the intention of killing us"
Captain Phillip Blown skipper of Cathay Pacific's DC-4 VR-HEU
From Chic Eather's - "Syd's Last Pirate"
Much of what follows is due to the generosity of Valerie Parish in sharing information about this event that impacted she and her family so greatly
Over the years Jim's close connection with Cathay Pacific brought him in contact a number of times with the DC-4 registered as VR-HEU. The last recorded time he flew this plane was on an out and in from Bangkok just before Jim's departure for the Indonesian Air Force. On July 23, 1954 friend and colleague Phil Blown was Captain of VR-HEU on a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok bound for Hong Kong. On board were 18 souls including flight deck crew Capt. Blown, co-pilot Cedric Carlton and radio officer Steven Wong. Cathay Pacific flight engineer George Cattanach was aboard as a passenger. Cattanach was going to Hong Kong to represent Cathay at a professional discussion with the Director of Civil Aviation.
Also among the passengers that day was the Parish family of Texas. Leonard, Fran and their three children - Valerie, Larry and Phillip - were headed home from Bandung after Len's tour with CNAC and following a completed business partnership in the Far East. As it is the tradition for pilots to name their planes, so it is with the daughters of pilots. Young Valerie Parish decided to christen Cathay Pacific VR-HEU - "Silver Wings."
As the flight progressed along the standard and prescribed route the Chinese launched what were thought to be two Soviet built Lavochkin LA-7 prop-driven fighters and shot the commercial passenger plane down into the South China Sea near Hainan Island. Their position was 18 06'N, 110 06'E.
'Chic' Eather called the act "Murder on the wing."
Of the 18 crew and passengers, nine were able to survive thanks to the intense efforts of the flight deck crew, the sturdy construction of the DC-4 and the rapid response by US rescue teams. The plane was repeatedly riddled with 50 cal. machine gun bullets and canon fire setting Silver Wings afire as the ship corkscrewed downward. Somehow Blown and crew were able keep the nose of the airliner up enough after the 9000 ft. descent such that on impact the plane first skipped the surface of the ocean rather than immediately nose in. This gave enough time for those souls that were able, to escape the fuselage before VR-HEU slipped beneath the waves after coming to rest. Someway, the maydays from Steven Wong (who did not make it that day) were heard and US rescue and support aircraft from Clark AFB The Philippines were able to recover the survivors under conditions of heavy seas, with no interference from the Chinese, and take them safely to Kai Tak airport Hong Kong.
This day became known as the Hainan Incident.
This day created, as would be expected, a serious international situation.
This day's events were widely condemned by the free world.
This day would soon lead to air combat between the US and China.
What this day really was, however, was described in later years by surviving passenger Valerie Parish who lost her father, Leonard, and two younger brothers in the shoot down.
The newspaper coverage was immediate- there was no mention of the hostile nature of the action that brought down VR-HEU. At this moment it was thought that the crash was an accident. Requests for interviews with the survivors were denied.
Two days later the Morning Post printed Captain Blown's account - this is when the shoot down became known by the public.
Surviving passenger Peter Thacher told of his experience to the Readers Digest -
This day was also recounted for the Saturday Evening Post by the skipper of the rescuing US sea-plane of the 31st Air Rescue Squadron scrambled out of Clark Air Force Base, The Philippines. Capt. Jack Woodyard was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this action.
Because of the actions of that day, Captain Blown and his co-pilot were awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air (from: Flight and Aircraft Engineer, No. 2398, Vol. 67, 7 January 1955)
Jim received a letter from Phil Blown describing what had happened. Given the nature of this event, the Long Beach newspaper ran an article where Jim commented on the shoot down.
The Harper and the Parish families knew each other and spent time together during the Bandung days. Many is the now dated photograph that documents these families sharing together in the common, everyday things of life in this far away land.
Len Parish, Jim Harper and Phil Blown were pilots. They were colleagues. They were friends. Chances are that they all knew one another long before the Bandung days.
Once again the random and unprovoked violence of a dangerous age in a dangerous and tense part of the world would terribly impact the lives of innocent people caught in the twisting affairs of states.
And, once again the lives of the Brethren of the Air and their families intersected in unexpected places and ways. This still happens to this day. These days, fortunately, not so tragically.
The Chinese government soon admitted an error had been made, offered their regrets, and paid in full, via the British government, a bill submitted by Cathay Pacific .
A shot of the day Phil Blown visited Jim.
Jim next to Captain Blown (far right)
For many years Captain Phillip Blown based his retirement in Australia. He passed away August 5, 2009 - NSW, Australia at the age of 96.
He was a great man.