Built in 1933, the Uiver was the first of 18 DC2 aircraft acquired by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines for passenger transport.

It was the first flying machine with automatic steering and one of the few aircraft with retractable landing gear. It was also the first plane to feature an entirely separate cockpit and food preparation area.

Keen to exploit the possibilities of world air travel, KLM entered the Uiver in the 1934 London to Melbourne air race. The event was sponsored by Sir MacPherson Robertson, the chocolate millionaire who believed it a fitting way to celebrate Melbourne's centenary.

On 20 October, 20 aircraft, including the Uiver, took off from Mildenhall, England for the epic 19,800 km event across the globe to Melbourne, Australia.

The Uiver carried a crew of four, under Captain R.D. Parmentier, and three passengers. It was the only race entrant with fare-paying passengers.

The aircraft performed well and was only a few hours behind the leader when it left Charleville, Queensland on the last leg to Melbourne. A fierce electrical storm cut wireless contact and the Uiver drifted off course.

→  The greatest air race: twenty planes, London to Melbourne, 1934

Hopelessly lost

RAAF signallers at Laverton were trying in vain to contact the plane. They alerted all towns along the route to be ready to help. Radio stations broadcast messages, navy ships switched on their searchlights and railway stations along the Melbourne to Albury line put on signal lamps.

Albury's municipal electrical engineer used the entire town lighting system to flash the word ALBURY in Morse code. Just after midnight, the aircraft was heard circling the town.

Arthur Newnham from the local ABC radio station 2CO broadcast an appeal for listeners to take their cars to the Albury racecourse and line-up so a landing strip could be illuminated with headlights.

At 1.20am, the Uiver dropped two parachute flares and made its approach to land. It bumped several times on the undulating centre of the racecourse and slithered to a halt 100 yards short of the inner fence. The aircraft was safe.

Around the world, millions of people huddled anxiously over their wireless, breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The rescue operation

But the drama was not over. Daybreak saw 8 tonnes of DC2 bogged in thick Albury mud. The Mayor, Alderman Alf Waugh rallied 300 people to dig it out and haul the Uiver to firmer ground. Later that morning, the Uiver resumed its flight to Melbourne, taking second place in the great race and winning the handicap.

Uiver in mud black and white images from 1934

Sadly in December 1934, the Uiver crashed in the Syrian Desert during a mail flight from Amsterdam to Jakarta killing all onboard. Following the tragedy, the people of Albury contributed to a memorial erected in Holland to honour those killed in the crash.