CRASH OF A LIBERATOR
AT DARWIN, NT
ON 2 NOVEMBER 1945

visits since 8 December 2000

 

B-24J Liberator, A72-359, ex USAAF No. 44-28111, of 23 Squadron RAAF was transporting 28 nurses of the 2/5th Australian General Hospital (2/5 AGH) from Morotai to Melbourne for recreation leave. They left Morotai on 30 October 1945. The pilot of A72-359 was Flight Lieutenant Charles W. Boyton of 21 Squadron RAAF.

One of the nurses, Mrs Noel Walter, remembers having to lie down in the bomb bay for the long trip.

One of the instruments in the Liberator gave some trouble on the flight across the Banda Sea. It was serviced during the scheduled stop-over at Darwin.

Just before sunrise on 2 November 1945, Boyton opened the throttle on A72-359 to takeoff from Darwin airfield. The flight engineer had distributed the nurses and their luggage throughout the aircraft to distribute their weight evenly. Moments after lift-off, the 28,00 kg Liberator nosed down slightly and settled back on to the runway. It is believed that the nose wheel tyre then burst causing the wheel to collapse. As a result the nose skidded along the runway for quite some distance. Due to a slight sideways drift, the starboard undercarriage also collapsed. No 3 propeller hit the ground and tore off its shaft. A fuel tank in the starboard wing was punctured and sparks from the collapsed undercarriage ignited the escaping fuel.

The Liberator skidded to a halt just to the right of the runway. Due to the quick thinking of the pilot and his six crew, all 35 occupants escaped the blazing inferno relatively unharmed.

Mrs Walter returned to the wreckage after the fire had been extinguished to find the burnt remains of her handbag beside the observer's seat where she had been sitting. Some Dutch coins in her handbag had melted due to the intense heat of the blaze.

The Court of Inquiry found that the cause of the crash was an unbalanced load which kept the nose down.

Due to instability occurring on take-off thus causing the nose wheel to strike the runway with a force no greater than would be expected in a heavy landing which a normal nose tyre could withstand effectively. In our opinion the nose tyre was faulty thus causing it to burst without undue strain being applied to it. 

Boyton claimed he was unable to raise the nose during takeoff despite his gallant efforts on the control wheel. The flight engineer claimed that he had distributed the passengers in a similar fashion to their departure from Morotai. The inquiry recommended a stricter enforcement of the rule that a B-24 should carry no more than 31 people.

Outside of the Court of Inquiry, both the Pilot and 2nd Pilot had also been questioned by Wing Commander Russell Bell, the temporary Commanding Officer of 82 Wing on 14 November 1945. Bell also had questioned Wing Commander E.H. Springbett (RAAF Darwin Station Commander) and Wing Commander A.T. Fay, 11 Group Engineering Officer. Both had seen evidence of skid marks which indicated that the brakes had been applied just before the aircraft had become airborne or had been applied before the aircraft had dropped back on to the runway.

It was clear that Wing Commander Bell had drawn a different conclusion to that of the Curt of Inquiry. In a statement written by Bell dated 14 November 1945 he wrote:-  

In the experience of the Commanding Officer of 82 Wing which consists of 18 months service with Liberators with Americans and Australians, the only accidents that have occurred to Liberator aircraft on take-off have been caused by the premature application of brakes after take-off.  The marks of the main wheels on the ground and the subsequent results are consistent with the action of applying the brakes before the aircraft is at a safe altitude, and in such cases the aircraft is apt to settle back on the ground…..I am firmly convinced that there is no mystery concerning this accident but that it was caused by the deliberate or inadvertent application of brakes….

 


Photo:- Bob Livingstone Collection

Tail of  B-24J Liberator, A72-359

 


Photo:- Bob Livingstone Collection

Close-up section of the above photo clearly showing
the tail number confirming this is A72-359, #44-28111

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

Wreckage of  B-24J Liberator, A72-359

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

Sergeant Brooks of 99 Squadron standing in front of the wreckage

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

"Shorty" Williams of 99 Squadron RAAF

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

What a mess!

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

The 35 occupants of this one were very lucky!

 


Photo:- Lindsay Francis ex 99 Sqn RAAF

Tail section of the B-24 Liberator

 

nt34-01.jpg (36034 bytes)

Liberator A72-359 ablaze at Darwin on 2 November 1945
The 35 occupants escaped unharmed

Those on board the Liberator were:-

CREW

F/Lt C.W. Boyton - Pilot
W/O P. Coach - 2nd Pilot
F/Lt A.W. Martin - Navigator - Temporary heat affect of his eyes
F/Sgt L. Murray - Flight Engineer
F/Sgt Armstrong - Wireless Operator Air Gunner
R.C. Trevorrow - Fit. 11E - Supernumerary Crew (24 Squadron)
Sgt. Challis - Fit11 -  Supernumerary Crew (24 Squadron)

PASSENGERS

Sgt. R.M. Smith, AAMWS - 2nd degree burns and slight shock - located near accumulator in nose of aircraft
Pte M.D. Brown, AAMWS - sprained left ankle
Pte D.H. Irving, AAMWS - contusion left foot
Pte H.W. Allen, AAMWS - contusion left foot
Pte Campbell, AAMWS
Pte Cavanagh, AAMWS
Pte Coventry, AAMWS
Cpt. Aveling, AANS
Lt. Baker, AANS
Lt. Baker, AANS
Lt. Blackwel, AANSl
Pte Linton, AAMWS
Cpl Lipscombe, AAMWS
Pte McKenzie, AAMWS
Sgt. Robinson, AAMWS
Cpl Gutteridge, AAMWS
Lt. Cromarty, AANS
Lt. Downey, AANS
Lt. Ferris, AANS
Cpt Hammer?, AANS
Cpl St. Clair, AAMWS
Pte Todd, AAMWS
Pte Williams, AAMWS
Pte Astill, AAMWS
Pte Billmah?, AAMWS
Pte Brown, AAMWS
Sgt Rousell, RAAF
Mr Fisher, YMCA

A72-359 had been delivered to the RAAF on 10 June 1945.

Phil Bush told me that his father, Robert Bush of 14 ARD (attached to RAAF Base Richmond) was present when this aircraft crashed. He was there from 1944 until just before Christmas 1945.

 

I have been given this by my father, some information that may be useful to you.

Robert Bush - 14ARD at Gorrie reformed as 12ARD Darwin.

The attached photos have been supplied to the B24 Liberator Association in Queanbeyan: –

The Secretary
P.O. Box 1052
Canberra ACT 2601

They have enhanced the photos and were able to contact the Matron who named the majority of the nurses, if not all.

Re the plane crash –

Dad whilst on roving guard heard the process of the take off and sounded as though one motor over revved and doubts as to whether the prop had become detached during attempted take off rather than breaking off at impact.

Trusting that this information may be of some assistance to you.

Phil Bush

 

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Phil Bush and Bob Livingstone for their assistance with this web page.

I'd like to thank Margaret R. Mott (nee Gutteridge), AAMWS, VFX 129041, 2/5 AGH for her assistance with this home page.

I'd also like to thank Jenni Jensen for her assistance with this web page. Jenni is the daughter of Lindsay Francis, ex 99 Squadron RAAF member.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Tocumwal to Tarakan"
"Australians and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator"
By Michael V. Nelmes

 

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This page first produced 12 September 1999

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