Veteran PNG pilot dies in Australia

National, Normal

The National, Wednesday June 26th, 2013

 JUNEE Reefs lost one of its well-loved residents last week with the passing of Laurence “Laurie” Crowley.

While he spent the last four decades on the land at his father’s property, at Victoria Park, New South Wales, Laurie lived his life in the air and was instrumental in the development of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. 

He logged 33,000 hours in the pilot’s seat.

With his brothers Lance, Stan and Terry, Crowley enlisted to serve in World War II.

He left Australia in June 1941 and travelled to Canada, crossing the continent before serving in England and then the Middle East as an aircraft engineer.

It was in Halifax, Canada, that he met his wife Elizabeth, who was working for the Canadian government as a censor.

At the end of the war, all four brothers returned to Australia and Crowley sent a telegram to Elizabeth asking her to join him in Australia. They were married in July 1946.

Crowley found work as an aircraft engineer and travelled to PNG.

The company left after two years, but the Crowleys stayed on and he earned his commercial pilot’s licence.

Starting out with a Tiger Moth, Crowley began transporting supplies and people around PNG.

“He could see the potential,” Mrs Crowley said. 

“There were no roads, everything had to be walked or flown.” 

It wasn’t long before more aircraft were bought and the business branched out into helicopters.

“Laurie didn’t mind working hard, they called him ‘first light and last light’ Crowley.”

The company also operated retail shops, bus tours, coastal shipping, an earth moving business and a coffee plantation.

In 1962, Crowley used one of his planes to establish an airline for the Solomon Islands – Megapode Airlines, later renamed Solomon Airlines.

It marked 50 years of operation in 2012.

When Crowley sold his PNG businesses in 1971, they returned to Australia and in 1973 he returned to his father’s farm and spent the next 40 years working on the land and with Crowley Airways.

In 2007, Crowley was recognised with an Officer of the Order of Logohu (OL) by PNG for services to commercial development, including air transportation and tourism.