Four months later, Butler was involved in a disastrous plane crash near Minlaton that was the beginning of the end for this aviation pioneer.
Harry Butler had known forced landings and minor accidents before and philosophically accepted them as part of the calculated risk in flying, but on January 11th, 1922, the almost inevitable crash came that dimmed the shining brightness of a genius.
It was a passenger flight in the Avro bi-plane with a Mr Miles on board who miraculously escaped injury. Butler had been dissatisfied with the Avro engine’s performance for two or three days, but a prolonged and meticulous warm-up inspection on that fatal day failed to reveal any trouble. The plane took off, but at about 400m the engine seized, and at that height not even Butler could take steps to prevent a bad smash.
He tried to throw the plane into a dive – standard procedure when stalled – but there was no time or opportunity to do anything but wait for the impact.
The front of the plane’s fuselage was smashed and splintered beyond recognition as was Butler’s face and head. By some miracle he survived but the months that followed were an agonising ordeal of operations and plastic surgery, with recurrent spells in nursing homes and hospitals.
Severe headaches and dizziness were a constant affliction, and Butler had great difficulty in concentration. Even after skilful surgery to rebuild his forehead, jaw, and nose, he was badly disfigured, and recognisable as Harry Butler on one side of his face only.
His intensely active flying days were gone forever, although he did take a plane up in Victoria after his apparent recovery.