John Quaife graduated from No. 112 Pilots Course in September 1981. After an initial posting to the Strike Reconnaissance Group, and a brief tour flying Canberra aircraft, his operational career has focussed on fighter operations; Quaife’s initial fighter training was conducted on Mirage IIIO aircraft.

In 1987, Quaife completed F/A-18 Hornet conversion training, and subsequently served with No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit, No 77. Squadron and No. 75 Squadron. He is a Fighter Combat Instructor with in excess of 2000 hours fighter experience and from 1996 to 1998, Quaife commanded No. 77 Squadron.

Between 1992 and 1994, Quaife served as a fast jet specialist officer in the Force Development Directorate of the Australian Defence Headquarters, primarily in developing the proposal for the acquisition of Hawk aircraft for Lead-in Fighter training. In 1999, Air Vice Marshal Quaife returned to that headquarters as the Director of Aerospace Combat Development.

During 2001, Quaife directed the Air Combat Group project. In this role he directed a small team that planned the amalgamation of RAAF fast jet operations into a single Force Element Group. In January 2002, he was appointed to command the newly created Air Combat Group. During his tenure, Air Combat Group units deployed for Operations Slipper and Falconer.

In January 2004, Quaife was appointed the RAAF’s first permanent Joint Force Air Component Commander. In this appointment he was responsible for developing Air Operations Centre functionality within the Australian Theatre air component. Between December 2004 and April 2005, Air Vice Marshal Quaife served as the director of the United States Combined Air Operations Centre, where he was responsible for orchestrating coalition air power in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Johnn Quaife was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2004 Australia Day Honours. He was promoted to the rank of Air Vice Marshal in June 2005, and appointed as Air Commander Australia. In August 2007, he accepted the appointment of Head of Capability Systems. He held this position until his retirement from the Air Force in 2008.




The sortie as briefed and flown as the lead aircraft of a pair (Classic Magpie) acting as an enemy air threat for a four aircraft Strike/Escort package.

The aircraft and engine exhibited no abnormal behaviour prior to the incident.

Following a visual approach through the initial point for runway 11, the aircraft was rolled from downwind into the base turn. About 7500RPM was selected as the base turn was initiated and, as airspeed approached 190kt, power was reapplied to maintain 190-200kts. A positive check of RPM was not made at this time. Incidence of the aircraft at this time was felt to be Amber/flickering Red and the aircraft was balanced in skid.

At this stage (about 1/4 way around the base turn) a rumbling vibration commenced which initially felt similar to flying through the wash of a preceding aircraft. The vibration was both heard and felt and was accompanied by a loss of thrust.

The noise of the vibration had replaced, and was at a lower volume than engine noise. A compressor stall was suspected. RPM was checked to be decreasing through 7000 and was last seen at about 6700 decreasing.

A Mayday was declared to Darwin Tower using the Transmit button on the throttle, whilst the aircraft was rolled and trimmed wings level and confirmed heading towards a clear area.

Ejection was initiated via the seat-pan handle on completion of the Mayday transmission. Altitude was not positively checked but assumed to be between 8OO and 1000ft (QNH).

No attempt ~as made to arrest the rate of descent.  However about a 2000 fpm rate of descent is believed to have been maintained with decreasing airspeed. No further fault finding was conducted prior to ejection and indicated T4 was not checked. The Main Fail light was not illuminated and the Main Fail Panel ~as not checked. The throttle position was not altered at any time after the commencement of the vibration.

Ejection ~as initiated with the right hand whilst the left hand gripped the right wrist. Initial ejection posture was believed good. Canopy jettison occurred immediately and the delay for seat initiation seemed much longer than the advertised one second. As a result, ejection posture was relaxed just prior to the seat firing. 

The firing sequence of the seat was clearly felt to be progressive which allowed tension of the neck muscles in an attempt to maintain posture. The ride in the seat was quite disorienting with the seat apparently rotating slowly forwards during rocket motor burn.

On parachute deployment, the abandoned aircraft was observed to be still flying, wings level, on ejection heading. Attention was then diverted to releasing the survival kit from the harness, however, the quick release connectors did not fall immediately to hand and so the attempt was abandoned to prepare for the imminent landing.

 An attempt was made to roll sideways on landing but the rate of descent and the forward speed of the parachute prevented any degree of finesse. The parachute landing was made on reasonably firm sand/mud at the edge of a mangrove area and at the water’s edge.

After recovering breath the parachute harness was released and helmet/oxy mask removed and visual signals were passed to the circling aircraft.

The SAR FIt Helo arrived in what seemed to be no more than about  10-12 minutes