The 50th anniversary of one of Australia's worst maritime disasters was almost forgotten, but a couple of Macleay residents have banded together to ensure the 21 lives, who were tragically lost at sea off the coast of South West Rocks, are remembered.
The MV Noongah departed Newcastle on August 23, 1969 with a cargo of steel bound for Townsville but struck disastrous conditions off the coast of Smoky Cape.
The ship was battling waves as large as 28-feet and gale force winds as strong as 110 kilometres per hour.
At 4.23am on August 25, a mayday call was transmitted from the Noongah and 14-minutes later the 26-man crew were forced to abandon ship.
Five survivors and one body were pulled from the water during the four-day massive air and sea search and rescue operation, but sadly 20 people were never found.
South West Rocks resident Tiana Hudson and former local Corrinne Boon first heard of the sinking of the Noongah last week and were horrified to discover no plans were in place to commemorate the tragic incident.
"A granddaughter of one of the men who lost their life posted in the Facebook group 'Blast from Kempsey past' asking if anything had been organised on the day of the anniversary of the tragedy," Ms Boon told the Argus.
"I had never heard of it and we quickly realised no one had organised anything.
"I felt like the region was being a bit disrespectful as people lost their lives and we weren't doing anything to remember and honour them."
The two have rallied local businesses and community members and have organised a memorial to be held at Smoky Cape lighthouse on Sunday August 25.
"I think it would be horrible to not have a memorial service for the men who lost their lives," Ms Hudson said.
"I hate the thought of family members travelling to South West Rocks for the anniversary and the community not holding anything in tribute of them.
"It would be really hurtful if that was one of my family members and there was no service organised."
Julie Fava and her two sisters, Wendy King and Louise Harvey, are daughters of Noongah survivor Russell Henderson and are travelling to South West Rocks for the anniversary.
The family was delighted to hear a memorial service had been organised.
"We decided to travel to South West Rocks for the anniversary because we thought it was the right thing to do, to pay our respects to our father and those who lost their lives," Ms Fava said.
"Our father is no longer with us anymore and I think it would mean a lot to him that we are going to be there.
"We are very thankful people have organised a memorial service, it will be lovely to attend and know that the tragedy isn't forgotten."
The Noongah memorial service will be held at 10am on Sunday August 25 at the Smoky Cape lighthouse, an estimated 12 nautical miles from where the ship sunk.
Ms Boon and Ms Hudson have arranged for a wreath, with the names of each of the people who lost their lives, to be made.
The wreath will be taken to the last known site of the Noongah and placed into the water by local fisherman Andrew Trappel.
Ms Boon and Ms Hudson have also started working towards having a park bench installed at the headlands of South West Rocks.
The seat will face the direction of where the ship sunk and will have a plaque with the names of the 21 men who lost their lives.
The sinking of the Noongah
The MV Noongah encountered disastrous weather conditions on its journey from Newcastle to Townsville while carrying a tonnes of steel.
Monstrous waves as high as 28-feet and gale force winds smashed into the Noongah.
The ship began to take on water on the night of August 24 and by 3.40am the next morning, all possible efforts had been made by the engine room crew to stabilise the vessel to a level of safety and they realised they had no choice but to shut the engines down due to the lack of oil pressure.
At 3.45am, the engines were shut off and the vessel lost all way and was left wallowing in the sea.
The Noongah transmitted a signal to Sydney Coast Radio at 3.52, which registered the ship at 12 nautical miles north-east of Smoky Cape.
At 4.23am, a mayday message was transmitted by Noongah. The message stated the forward hatch was partly submerged and its engines had failed.
The Noongah sent a final message relaying the crew was preparing to abandon ship at 4.37am.
Youngest members of the crew, Kenny Betters and Stephen Pedemont, were on their first ship.
Four-day search and rescue
Two destroyers, HMAS Vendetta and Hobart, were ordered to take part in the search and departed from the South Coast of NSW.
The first RAAF Hercules departed from Richmond base and began an air search for the crew members.
Local police, army personnel and local civilian volunteers began patrolling local beaches, searching for survivors and washed up debris at 7.26am.
The weather conditions and poor visibility made the search difficult.
While conducting its search from the air, the Hercules spotted a flare from a life raft at 8.30am.
The plane flew to the closest ship, which was a Japanese gas tanker called Koyo Maru, and directed it in the direction of the life raft.
The Hercules soon located another raft in the sea and the Koyo Maru, while battling treacherous conditions, managed to pull a survivor, John Wirth and Anwyl Durose, from each raft.
In the afternoon of August 25, a plane radioed to the Coffs Harbour Control Centre that they had spotted four survivors in life jackets clinging to a plank.
It was later found that one of the four, Thomas Ford, unfortunately had died.
The pilot flew within 100 feet of the survivors to reassure them they had been spotted.
The nearest ship, which was the Australian merchant vessel 'Meringa', and 40 minutes later the three men, Bill Cockley, Russell Henderson and John Lindgard, were hauled from the freezing sea, nearly 12 hours after abandoning ship - a miracle.
The search covered an area of 110 nautical miles and carried on for four days but no more survivors or bodies were found. The total number of people involved in the search and rescue was more than 2500.
The only traces of the Noongah were life jackets and floating debris.
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