On 18 November 1987, a RAAF Hornet, A21-102, crashed on Palm Island in Queensland, claiming the life of pilot Flying Officer Richard ‘Rick’ Michael Jeffreys.
Flying Officer Jeffreys was conducting the final solo flight of his conversion course during a low-level night radar and bombing sortie.
A skilled pilot, Flying Officer Jeffreys achieved dux of all the flying courses he undertook. He became a fighter pilot in 1986, flying the delta wing Mirage with 77 Squadron in Worimi Country, Newcastle.
Flying Officer Jeffreys was then selected as one of the first to convert to the F/A-18 Hornet, commencing with Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit (2OCU), the ‘Tigers’, in 1987.
For many years following the crash, Palm Island Elders were concerned about Flying Officer Jeffreys’ spirit remaining on the island. First Nations peoples’ rituals and practices are unique to each community. When a person passes away, the spirit leaves the body and must be sent along its journey.
Subsequently, the Palm Island Council requested Air Force support for a commemorative service to be held on 18 November 2022 to mark the 35-year anniversary.
This would send Flying Officer Jeffreys’ spirit on its journey and provide spiritual healing for the Palm Island Elders and community – particularly those in the community who were present on the day of the crash.
The service, conducted by Chaplain David Kelly, was held adjacent to the jetty at the Palm Island cenotaph and was well attended by Palm Island residents, school children, Flying Officer Jeffreys’ parents Dianne and John, and Air Force representatives from Air Command and Air Force Headquarters.
At the service’s conclusion, Palm Island residents presented Mr and Mrs Jeffreys with gifts. A resident also wrote and composed a song about the night of the crash, and performed it with a guitar, accompanied by didgeridoo, background vocals and dancing.
“Dianne and John were very grateful to travel to Palm Island,” Warrant Officer Trish Mackintosh said.
“Knowing how much the Palm Island people cared for their son, and them, was very moving and appreciated.”
Warrant Officer Mackintosh said the intent of the day was surpassed thanks to the Air Force, the Palm Island Council, the community and Regional Indigenous Liaison Advisor Lee Smallwood.
Group Captain Peter Davies, Chief of Staff Air Combat Group, represented Air Force at the commemoration.
“I wish to thank the Mun-burra Elders for being the caretakers of Rick’s spirit for the past 35 years,” Group Captain Davies said.
“Witnessing the crash first-hand and unable to get to the crash site, I would like to acknowledge that today’s ceremony is not only to enable Rick’s spirit to continue along its journey, but also forms part of your healing journey.
“To Rick’s parents John and Dianne: there is nothing you have not heard about Rick’s Air Force achievements.
“Today marks a new chapter. Your son’s spirit has been in the care of the Mun-burra people, a people who care deeply for a man they have never met in life.
“Your presence today is paramount to the elders’ healing. Thank you for being here.”
Flying Officer Jeffreys is remembered as one of Air Combat Group’s greatest ‘Tigers’, memorialised in the new 2OCU Joint Strike Fighter building at RAAF Base Williamtown, Newcastle.
The main auditorium is named after him – a permanent reminder for all budding fighter pilots of his skills and the debt he paid in preparing to defend Australia.