​The day, 50 years ago, I searched for Australia's missing Prime Minister

Police diver John Simon recounts the day he searched for Harold Holt


Farm Online News
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Fifty years ago the then Prime Minister went for a swim and wasn't seen again. John Simon was a member of the search party.

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The disappearance 

On December 17, 1967, the then Prime Minister of Australia Harold Holt disappeared off Portsea's Cheviot Beach.

Laurieton's John Simon was part of the extensive, yet eventually futile, search. 

At the time John Simon was a constable with Victoria Police and was also in the Search and Rescue Squad Reserve. He was one of about 38 divers from Police Search and Rescue and the Navy who searched for the missing PM. 

Mr Simon, then 23, was watching television when he learnt a high-profile politician had disappeared at Portsea. 

He called up the D24 communications to ask if he could help and was recruited as one of the divers who would search for Mr Holt. 

On December 17, two members from the police force dived but the search was suspended. 

“We had a discussion and decided it was too rough to dive,” Mr Simon said. 

Navy skin divers prepare to enter the ocean at Cheviot Beach, Monday 18 December 1967. - Death of Prime Minister Harold Holt, while swimming in surf near Portsea.

Navy skin divers prepare to enter the ocean at Cheviot Beach, Monday 18 December 1967. - Death of Prime Minister Harold Holt, while swimming in surf near Portsea.

They went back to the Melbourne office to collect equipment and were back at the army base in the early hours of the following morning Monday, December 18. 

The conditions were not as rough as the previous day, allowing for clear visibility in the water, Mr Simon said. 

He described the resources at the divers' disposal as 'exceptional’

“We did the best we could with what we had. I’m sure we canvased everywhere we could look at.” 

The dive search for the body finished on Saturday, December 23. Patrols were still be conducted on the beach. 

John Simon dives into the water.

John Simon dives into the water.

The conspiracies 

Mr Holt’s body was never found so there was never an autopsy done to determine the exact cause of his death. 

Numerous theories circulated about Mr Holt's death.

However, Mr Simon doesn’t believe there is any depth to any of these conspiracies. 

“Given the state of the sea at that time, I would have said that as soon as Mr Holt’s feet left the ground he would have been taken out,” he said. 

“Portsea is notorious for rips and so I don’t put much weight into the conspiracies.” 

Mr Simon believes Mr Holt drowned. 

John Simon holds a photo of himself as a police diver at the time of the search.

John Simon holds a photo of himself as a police diver at the time of the search.

The experience 

Mr Simon said the case was an amazing one to be involved in. 

“It was a one-off experience because of who went missing,” Mr Simon said. 

“The resources which were poured into it were extensive and I was part of that.” 

Mr Simon said it would have been nice to have closure and to find Mr Holt’s body. 

“However a lot of times people disappear in the water and they are never found,” he said. 

“He is not the only one who was never found. It would have been nice to find him but it didn’t happen.

“I don’t think that we missed anything.” 

Read more:

An R.A.N. Reserve diver, Lieutenant Peter Trace, works with a pneumatic chisel on the underwater rock site for a memorial to Mr. Harold Holt. It is 15 feet underwater in Cheviot Bay, Victoria.

An R.A.N. Reserve diver, Lieutenant Peter Trace, works with a pneumatic chisel on the underwater rock site for a memorial to Mr. Harold Holt. It is 15 feet underwater in Cheviot Bay, Victoria.

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