Memories of ship collision stay with sailors for 50 years

MOST 16-year-olds are thinking about their first job and learning to drive.

But normal teenage angst was the last thing on Hedley Leah "Lee" Platten's mind.

At 16, he was ordered by his superiors to recover a body from the ocean. The order would change his life forever.

It was February 10, 1964, and aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne II had collided with the HMAS Voyager II.

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As a spotlight shone on a body floating in the water, Mr Platten, an ordinary seaman quarter master gunner (OSQMG), was given direction to recover the body from the ocean.

"AB Bungy Williams placed a rope around my waist and said, 'You're it, Platten, overboard you go'," he said.

"Once in the water I approached the body from behind, and touching him on the shoulder, the body turned 180 degrees in the water facing me."

The body belonged to CO HMAS Voyager Captain Duncan Stevens.

He was one of 82 men who died that evening.

"An instruction came from on board Hawk to tie my rope around the body to assist in bringing it alongside and up the port side Jacobs ladder," Mr Platten said. 

Hedley Leah (Lee) Platten at an Anzac Day ceremony.
Hedley Leah (Lee) Platten at an Anzac Day ceremony. Contributed

Mr Platten said as the body was being hauled aboard, the rope slipped and the body fell back into the water beside him, sinking and then resurfacing.

"I put a running bowline on the body and Williams climbed halfway down the ladder and grabbed it, assisting it up the ladder with more assistance from those on board," he said.

"As I'd been left in the water with no rope on, and could not reach the base of the ladder, I had to call out to draw attention, and request the rope, which was thrown to me.

Mr Platten assisted the first aid attendant with a resuscitation attempt.

"It was then that I discovered who he was," he said.

"Captain Duncan Stevens was pronounced dead by the first aid attendant and placed in a Neil Robertson stretcher and stowed at the base of the aft gun deck vertical access ladder," Mr Platten said.

The surviving crew commemorated the 50th anniversary of the tragic collision this year.

Colleen Platten, wife of Mr Platten, said the junior recruits onboard that evening had carried the horrific memories with them for every day of those 50 years.



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