Project 964


The mystery of the missing North American Harvard NZ 964.


A wonderful and mysterious love story and a tragic 1942 air accident.
Also including  details of the private search for the
Moncrieff and Hood aircraft "Aotearoa" - presumed crashed in the
Awaroa area on 10th January 1928 at appproximately 1730 hours.




On 18th August 1942, John Orbell left Woodbourne Base for 1 hour of aerobatic training in a North American Harvard. He did not return and no trace of either the pilot or the aircraft has ever been found.


PROJECT 964 aims to locate the remains of this aircraft and its pilot.





NZ964 near Woodbourne ~ RNZAF Official Photograph




Update August 2017. Likely location of aircraft and pilot established and a search likely 2017/2018. Puzzle of two possible Harvard crashes in the Waiiti area to be resolved. Both sites to be visited August/september 2017.



The author of this site has been involved in the ongoing but so far unsuccessful search for the Moncrieff and Hood aircraft. 

Update 20th August 2017 - search operations recommence September 2017 !

Moncrieff and Hood – attempt to cross the Tasman Sea by air 10th January 1928.

The flight progressed well and they made good time and arrived off the West Coast of the South Island at around 1700 hours. There was a sighting of them around that time from Karamea.

The day was clear but there was cloud around the Marlborough Sounds, and the pair turned on their new rhumb line course to Wellington Heads at a point slightly south of Cape Farewell.

The engine suddenly stopped. The evidence suggests that this was due to a fuel problem and it is most likely that the main fuel tank was empty.

This probably due to the fact that the aircraft fuel consumption had never been accurately measured with a full load of fuel and it is quite likely that Captain Hood exceeded the 75% anticipated power level for the duration of the flight in order to achieve the crossing in daylight.

This would have resulted in higher than expected fuel consumption for the Trans-Tasman flight.

This is further confirmed by the fact that the take-off was accomplished in half the Ryan aircraft manufacturer’s stated distance.

Why the aviators were not able to draw fuel from the remaining wing tanks is not known however the system could have been plumbed incorrectly (as suggsted by Chris Rudge), or the still rotating engine was drawing air into the motor instead of fuel.

As the men would have been very tired,  their responses might also have been slow.

The aviators were faced with a crash into comparatively deep water in Tasman Bay, with the risk of the aircraft being flipped onto its back with the subsequent risk of drowning. This was because the aircraft had a fixed undercarriage.

Both men were keen to achieve the Trans-Tasman crossing and realised that if they ditched into the water then they may never be found, and the record lost.

The opted instead to try and land on a ridge in the Awaroa area which seemed to be clear of vegetation and which would leave them in a good position to be found by searchers.

In those days of pioneering aviation the thought was also that they could fly the aircraft away again once repairs had been made.

Unfortunately the terrain was rough and the aircraft somersaulted losing its  engine in the process. It ended up lying on its back on  a ridge within an area previously  searched by LANDSAR in 2013.

Both men likely died of their injuries at the scene and neither the aircraft nor its passengers have ever been found and the search for them has been intensive and ongoing.

My personal conclusion is that both men were the first to cross the Tasman Sea by air, and description of metallic aircraft wreckage as described by two independent witnesses does suggest that this is the case.

The relatively intact nature of the airframe also does indicate that someone was probably at the controls when the aircraft hit the ground.

In late 2016 key information about the airframe was received from the USA, and this changed the search techniques used on the ground.

Further evidence has subsequently come to hand which confirms that the aircraft came to rest on its back and Lankshear and party probably found no wings because they had rotted away and were in fact underfoot.

Based on evidence so far, and the relatively intact nature of the fuselage, someone was at the controls when the aircraft crashed.

The search effort continues in 2017 but has been delayed due to a breakdown of electronic search equipment. Search operations will continue in September 2017.

Interesting Object