An Unexpected 'Mayday' in November

01.09.2016

tags: Murder, NSW, Homicide,

discussion: 0 comments

By Barry Fay

From the September 2016 issue of the APJ.

This story is a dramatic account of a series of brutal murders, including that of a police sergeant shot to death on duty. The sergeant's body was found on the side of a remote hill by workers, just after the offender has sped away in his vehicle. The following text is from part of the story, including a transcript of the actual radio messages transmitted by one of the workers, and police responding to the report of a slain colleague:

At this point, Cliff Hodges volunteered to report things via the radio in the sergeant’s car. But before doing so, he remembered they had the vehicle registration number of a possible witness to the crime—i.e. the big man who was driving the yellow Valiant down the track—so he copied this registration number onto the palm of his hand in case VKG police needed it. He then went to the sergeant’s vehicle and tried to use the police radio. Hodges was a little unfamiliar with it at first and you can actually hear the microphone going ‘click, click’ on VKG’s audio tape as he tested the radio transmitter. Then a few seconds later (after seeing the car’s ‘call sign’ on the dashboard, he held the button down firmly and uttered those unforgettable words: "Mayday! Mayday! This is car ninety-two nine … over."

Well, not surprisingly, this strange, yet disturbing call was not immediately responded to by police in the operation’s room at Waratah (Newcastle) and, as the VKG officer contemplated his next move, things became unusually quiet for a few seconds; only the eerie background voice of the 24-hour, continuous-clock could be heard in the radio room ‘...at the third stroke, it will be 12.33 precisely. Beep! Beep! Beep!’

Meanwhile, Mr Hodges now suspecting he was either out of range or getting interference from other cars repeated the call in a much stronger voice: “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is car ninety-two nine … over.”

Now a second call of this nature from somebody using an official police call-sign could not be ignored and the police radio suddenly crackled to life in the quiet surroundings of the quarry: “Yes, ninety-two nine - go ahead." Gathering a modicum of composure the forestry man pushed the mike button down firmly and said: This is Cliff Hodges from the New South Wales Forestry Commission at Summit Point Lookout; one of your officers has been shot - over!

(VKG - also called Waratah): Ninety-two nine; at Summit Point Lookout – what’s the location there please?

Hodges : Mount Vincent at Sugarloaf - over.

VKG: Yes - the location there thanks.(The VKG officer, unfortunately, is none the wiser with such scant information and he’s not the only one a little confused.) Because Hodges then says: Please repeat.

VKG: Location from there thanks.

Hodges: Head up towards the tower at Mount Sugarloaf. There's a forestry road on the left; take that and keep coming right out and I'll meet you on the main road - over.

VKG: Thank you.

VKG: Any cars in the vicinity thanks; to head towards Mount Sugarloaf. There's a report of an officer being shot! (NB, VKG at Waratah, was speaking to all channels.)(There is a moment or two of silence at this point, as general duty police contemplated their position in regard to responding to this message. Then, the silence is interrupted again by those eerie words faintly emanating from the continuous time clock at Waratah. ‘...at the third stroke, it will be 12.35 and thirty seconds. Beep! Beep! Beep!’

VKG: Any car to head towards Mount Sugarloaf thanks. Any car please, to head towards Mount Sugarloaf.

Author:This appeal for assistance in the Newcastle area was seen by many as a far stronger message than a 'Signal One' and, within seconds a flood of calls to assist were reverberating through the operator's head phones. The following text (although slightly edited to remove ambiguity) has been documented from the continuous tapes which were then operating in the Radio Communications Section at Newcastle HQ and, to simplify things for our readers, I’ll keep all the VKG broadcasts in bold writing.

VKG: Yes, the number of that car just heading out.

Response: 94/28.

VKG: Thank you 94/28

(A Wallsend vehicle then responds on another channel.)

Car 94/10: We are at Adamstown, we’ll head out there too.

VKG: Yes 94/10. Now 92/9 please. That person speaking on the police radio at Mount Sugarloaf. Could you standby the radio thanks?

94/35 from Charlestown.

VKG: Thank you 94/35.

(Similar acknowledgements from a number of vehicles go on for several minutes as the time machine fades into the background. Then suddenly, the VKG operations officer needs some confirmation about the identity of forestry man in the police vehicle at Mount Sugarloaf.)

VKG: All cars stand-by please. Now that vehicle with the forestry personnel on board that gave us the initial information thanks. The forestry men at Mount Sugarloaf please!

But there is no immediate answer … (I’m told that our forestry worker was feeling a little nauseous at this point.)

Car 92/8 to Waratah.

VKG: Yes - 92/8

Interference occurs … and a response comes from another vehicle (on a separate radio channel). (And, as usual, the voice of the time machine fades into the background as more radio confusion follows …

VKG:Thank you 95/9. All cars to proceed up Mount Sugarloaf towards the towers, a Forestry Commission Officer will see you on a track that goes off to the left.

Car 92/12 we’re at Belmont. We’ll head out that way.

Car 15 we’re heading out that way as well.

VKG: Now 92/9 thanks. The vehicle with the forestry personnel on board that gave us the initial information thanks.Then the time machine partly cuts in and fades away…

VKG: 92/9 thanks. The person who is with the police vehicle that gave us the information re the officer being shot - over.

(But alas, this man is still feeling ill.)

VKG, Waratah persists: “92/9, thanks.”Finally a click is heard as

Hodges activates the mike again: Yeah,this is the person giving information about the policeman who was shot - over.

VKG: Yes. What’s the situation there thanks.

Hodges: “Ummmmm, we heard reports of someone shooting in this area and drove up to Mount Sugarloaf. As we pulled into a partly cleared area we saw the policeman lying on the ground, face down - he’s been shot in the head. One of our truck drivers is now proceeding back down the road to meet your vehicles - over.”

VKG: Thanks 92/9. Can we have the location where the police officer is now thanks?

Hodges: It’s called Summit Point Lookout – over.

95/9 to Waratah

VKG: Yes 95/9

It’s Detective Inkster in this car; I am just leaving Mayfield, have you got any detectives going there at the moment?

VKG: There is a number of cars going, I can’t ascertain if the detectives are on the way yet?

Reply: Well do you want me to head out from Mayfield.

VKG: Yes, if you would.

Response:Right, I’m on my way.

Car 91/40 - On the way too thanks.

VKG: Thank you. Information to those cars involved, the location given is the Summit Point Lookout. You drive up Sugarloaf Range Road towards the NBN Towers, take the first turn on the left and follow that road.

Rescue 91: On the way.

VKG: Thank you Rescue 91.

(Time: … 12.38 …)

(At this point in time, the forestry worker (Cliff Hodges) suddenly noticed the Valiant’s registration number that he had written on the palm of his hand and he picked up the mike again.)

Hodges: This is car 92/9 - over.

VKG: Yes, 92/9.

Hodges: The registration number of a car seen, a yellow Valiant sedan is: GQL-303, over.

VKG: Thank you. Were the occupants of this vehicle involved in the shooting?

Hodges: Can’t identify exactly. But he was the one seen leaving the area – over.

VKG: Thank you. Would you remain on the air thanks?

Hodges 92/9: Okay, will do.

VKG: Information to cars going to Mount Sugarloaf. A vehicle possibly involved is a yellow Valiant sedan number: GQL-303. I repeat, for those cars heading up to the mountains - a vehicle, possibly involved in the shooting is: GQL-303.

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