The Day Qantas Came to Meekatharra - 1975


Airports suitable for large jet transports were - and are - few and far between in Western Australia.
When the capital city, Perth, gets fogged in there aren't too many options. One diversion alternate is Meekatharra, in central Western Australia, some 756 km (408 NM) from Perth. The photos on this page were taken by Mal Billet, a Flight Service Officer stationed at Meekatharra in the mid-1970s. They show a diversion by Qantas Boeing 707-338C VH-EAJ City of Broken Hill in early 1975.

Retired Perth Air Traffic Controller and aviation historian Geoff Goodall recalls, "Meekatharra was regularly used by the domestic jets each winter when Perth had fog night after night. The companies disliked having their jets from the East diverting to Kalgooriie en route to refuel, so they could arrive at Perth able to hold for hours. They preferred to bring them on to Perth no matter how low the visibility and then do a diversion to Meeka. Top up at Meeka, wait for the TAF [Terminal Aerodrome Forecast] to improve, then launch back down to Perth. Went on all night long."

"However very few Internationals actually went to Meekatharra during my time in Perth, They would carry Meeka as their Flight Plan Alternate, but if they couldn't get into Perth after a couple of approaches, they usually had enough fuel to divert to Pt Hedland, or even better Melbourne or Sydney. Meekatharra was a 'bare bones' airport. The small terminal building couldn't have held more than an F.27 passenger load when I was there last in the 1980s. But the airport was well used by General Aviation, and Flight Service there had a good system of organising the refuellers and the sandwich-lady for inbound aircraft."



Mark Spedding, a Flight Service Officer who served at Meekatharra in the late 1980s comments about the photo above: "The gate and path are from the east end of the apron to the terminal, the only shot from near the FSU is the first one in the mostly dark. The main runway 09/27 is visible in the background and the gable markers of the dirt strip (14/32) are visible under the tail."

"It did get that green after rain in Meeka, but it went brown pretty quick. The green grass in front of the terminal was a particular pride of the head groundie when I was there, maintained by near-daily watering in the early morning, with hoses tapped into the fire-fighting supply. It was standard procedure to ring Johnny Bee before testing the Common Crash Call and crash alarm on a Friday if the sprinklers were on, as the booster pump had the power to blow all the sprinklers off the end of the hoses. God knows what would happen if we hit the red button for a crash!"

"The De Beaux family who had been groundies & FSU admin for decades spoke of several such diversion events, including one night where 6 international and domestic jets filled the apron and lined up on runway 04/22."

"There were two jet diversions into Meeka while I was there. I was called out for one of them, but it came and went in the dark so I never got a good look at it. It was my understanding that Kalgoorlie was the primary alternate for Perth, but due to a similar latitude if it was foggy at Perth it was fairly likely to be foggy in Kalgoorlie as well. When they were both socked-in the jets went to Meeka. For the first diversion while I was there the jet was there for hours, but only one of the crew got off as the air-stairs pictured had been decommissioned and they used the electrician's ladder. We got new air-stairs by the next diversion."

The diagram below shows the layout of Meekatharra aerordome as it was a year before the photos on this page were taken (it was the same then too). The location of the main apron, where the Boeing was parked and the FSU was located, is shown by the red arrow. Meekatharra FSU closed in 1989.



Above: The red Meekatharra dust flies as VH-EAJ taxies for departure.

Below: A telex advising of a similar diversion by Qantas Boeing 707 VH-EBW on 18 November 1970.


(Photos: Mal Billet/CAHS collection; telex-CAHS collection)

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