Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Atlantis Seaplane Float

It was 15 May 1932. The seaplane Atlantis was on its way to Darwin from Kupang in Timor, when bad weather caused it to become well off course. Running out of fuel, the pilot, Captain Hans Bertram, had to land in a remote part of the northwest coast. He and his mechanic, Adolf Klausmann were then to spend 40 days of privation until they were found by Aborigines in a cave where they had all but given up and prepared to die. When the two airmen first landed, they began to convert one of the seaplane floats into a type of canoe. Although ingenious and practical the makeshift craft was not very useful on the open sea. They ended up washed ashore, still with no real idea of where they were and with no food and water. Search parties were looking for the men to no avail, but a cigarette case with Hans Bertram’s initials on it was found by an Aboriginal. A search spreading out from this area found the missing plane, but it was of course empty. Now an even bigger search was put in progress using Aboriginal trackers from missions in the area, and one of these trackers found the men holed up in their cave waiting to die. This Aboriginal is thought to have been Minnijinnimurrie from the Drysdale Mission. He and other Aboriginals with him from the mission looked after the two aviators for a week before the first group of police rescuers arrived. The condition of the two men was very poor and two runners were sent to Forrest Mission with messages to arrange a boat to be sent to pick them up. Overnight Klausmann’s condition had deteriorated and it was decided to send more runners to the police in Wyndham via Forrest Mission requesting a strait jacket also be sent. The second pair of Aboriginal runners then performed what was to become a marathon feat. They were told that if they managed to overtake the first runners they would get a new pair of shorts and a shirt. The pair made it to Forrest Mission in two days. It had taken six days for the rescue party to travel that distance. Although the role that Aboriginals played in finding the aviators and keeping them alive until the rescue party reached the cave is well known, the story of Andumeri and Jalnga’s marathon run is not often mentioned. Another aspect of this story is also not often told. While the search parties were under way, there were reports that Aboriginals had killed the two aviators. A number of Aboriginals were taken prisoner by Superintendent Johnson, including Wajana and Yorgin, the suspected murderers. Three different stories arose. An Aboriginal woman, Mooger, said that Wajana and Yorgin saw the plane land, asked the aviators for tobacco and when they were not given any, speared the men. Then some of the prisoners told Johnson that they had found one man dead in the plane, and tracks of the other man. Finally a third story from other Aboriginals of the Brinjin tribe said that three other Aboriginals had killed the aviators. Regardless of the fact that these stories conflicted, and that no evidence of a dead person had been found in the seaplane, the Aboriginals were kept chained with the search party until they found the men. They were released after finding Bertram and Klausmann and given some food and tobacco as recompense. The Aboriginal group associated with the Drysdale Mission was possibly the Miwa and the runners were from the Forrest Mission and possibly associated with the Aboriginal Yiiji group.

Associated Tribe Miwa, Yiiji

Contact Evidence Verified

Type of contact Helpful

Year 1932

Nationality German

Location Kimberley

Source European