I knew I had an article on that Cyclone Tracy disaster in Darwin, Australia in one of my old aviation magazines ... a slow Sunday meant I had time to look for it, and here it is:
AIRLIFT! The Darwin Rescue
Devastation, death and destruction. Hardened aircrews taking in part in one of modern history's greatest mercy airlifts winced as they gazed out over what had once been a thriving city - Darwin, the city which died when nature ran amuck on Christmas Day, 1974.
More than 25,000 people were airlifted out of the devastation in the first six days of the rescue operation by a massive fleet of aircraft consisting of Lockheed Hercules, DHC Caribous, BAC 1-11s, C-141 Starlifters, Boeing 727s, 707s, 747s, Douglas DC-9s, Fokker F.27s and F.28s and a host of smaller aircraft drawn from the air forces of Australia, New Zealand and the United States, as well as from airlines such as Qantas, TAA, and Ansett. Also playing a major role were the smaller airlines and general aviation operators.
Many Australian and world records for numbers uplifted on individual flights were shattered during the airlift which fanned out from Darwin to the four corners of Australasia.
A typical Hercules load was 135 people including stretcher cases; on a Boeing 707 up to 303 passengers were accommodated (the normal seating was 156); and Starlifters evacuated up to 353 people on each flight.
But the Boeing 747s shattered all records for uplifting passengers. On three flights into Sydney these aircraft carried respectively 633, 699, and an incredible 708, which is believed to be an alltime world record.
Night curfews on jet movements in Sydney were withdrawn for the duration of the airlift.
On northbound journeys to Darwin all aircraft carried capacity loads of volunteer helpers, doctors, and nurses, as well as urgently-needed supplies of medical equipment, clothing and food donated on an unprecendented scale private individuals and the Federal and State governments.
The 22kg per person maximum baggage allowance posed no real problem as most evacuees had lost all their possessions when Cyclone Tracy swept through the sleeping city.
No-one knows exactly to what speed the cyclone's winds peaked, but before instruments at the local weather office were smashed a recording of 259 kph was registered.
As a direct result of the colossal damage to hospitals and homes - some were literally wiped off the face of the earth - lack of water and power and the threat of disease, the director of Australia's Natural Disaster Committee, Major-General A.B. Stratton, ordered the immediate evacuation of between 50 and 65% of the total population using every available civil and military aircraft in the country.
As the massive airlift swung into action, 3,000 people were evacuated on Boxing Day and this figure was increased to 6,500 the following day and still further to 7,500 on the 28th.
Reception areas set up to care for arriving evacuees at major airports and military air bases were reminiscent of post-war European refugee camps.
No single event since the outbreak of World War II and the Japanese bombing of Darwin has so united the Australian nation as this disaster.
[source : Henry Krug : World Airnews, February 1975]
That max. pax figure doesn't agree with the one on the Qantas website, but I guess it doesn't matter anyway - the El Al uplift of Ethiopians in 1991 was far greater!
Hope this article extract helps to paint a picture for those who were too young to remember this particular disaster & rescue (which includes me!).