CRASH OF A LOCKHEED 14
POSSIBLY IN NORTH QUEENSLAND
ON 21 APRIL 1942

 

A Lockheed 14 belong to Guinea Airways went missing on 21 April 1942. This aircraft was on “Special Work” for the Department of Civil Aviation. The aircraft had ten “important passengers” on board as well as a crew of two (Pilot Capt. D.G. Cameron and First Officer C.H. Gray).  A search over a wide area of Northern Australia was carried out for this aircraft.  

There has long been stories about the mystery aircraft and there has always been speculation, some of which has always sounded very far fetched as to the identity of these very important passengers and its very valuable cargo.  First mention of this aircraft is made in The Cairns Post, Friday, on 24 April 1942, which reports:-

“Search for the airliner missing since Tuesday 21st.  with ten passengers and two crew have to date proved unsuccessful.  The plane a Guinea Airways Lockheed 14 was on “Special Work” for the Department of Civil Aviation.”

On the day of the crash, some people in the town of Babinda reported a flash in the direction of Mt. Bartle Frere and noises similar to an engine cutting out. Little did they know that they had probably witnessed another crash, that of a USAAF B-25C Mitchell bomber which had crashed on the same day into Mt. Bartle Frere. It was returning to Charters Towers from a search mission in the Coral Sea.

On Anzac Day, Saturday 25th. April 1942, The Cairns Post makes mention of the search at Babinda:-

REPORTS  OF  FLASH

Lead to Search

Lost Plane Theory

Reports received in Babinda on Tuesday that a flash in the direction of Mt. Bartle Frere had been seen and that a noise similar to that of a plane engine cutting out had been heard led to the undertaking of searches in the rough mountain country. Searches were hampered by extremely bad weather conditions, which made visibility in the thick scrub almost impossible, while the presence of thousands of leeches made progress exceptionally hazardous.  Up to the present, however, no result has been attained. The theory is held in some quarters that the reports may have been inspired by the official statement that a Lockheed Hudson plane engaged on special work for the Civil Aviation Department in North Australia had not been located. Residents of Babinda last night still believing the reports may have been founded on fact, continued efforts to solve the mystery.

The following Monday 27 April 1942 The Cairns Post reported:-

“The search for the airliner with ten passengers and two crew which has been in progress since last Tuesday has proved fruitless”

The Innisfail paper “The Evening Advocate”, appears to have though it to be the missing Lockheed up to and including the day the wreckage was finally found. 

The Evening Advocate                                                  Wednesday, April 29, 1942

LAND SEARCH PARTIES NEAR SITE OF WRECKED PLANE?

“ Hacking desperately through the tangled beard of tropical undergrowth that clothes the face of Bartle Frere, search parties are nearing the burnt patch reported by a searching plane yesterday.  This patch is believed to mark the spot where an airliner, reported missing last week, crashed with a large number of passengers on board.” 

This report goes on to report on the progress being made on the search in the Babinda area.  Another passage in this report is of interest, 

“Of outstanding merit was the flying achievement of the pilot of the search plane, who handled his machine with masterly skill in difficult country, to locate the clue which is expected to solve a mystery that has concerned all  Australia for more than a week.”

Once it was discovered that the searchers had found a USAAF B-25 Mitchell Bomber and not this mystery Lockheed Hudson airliner they appear to have dropped the story.   The Mitchell was not news but the Lockheed was.

The search for the Lockheed continued to be covered until Saturday the 10th. May 1942.

The Cairns Post reported:-  

“The Lockheed Airliner missing since April 21th. with ten passengers and Pilot Capt. D.G. Cameron and First Officer C.H. Gray has not been located despite extensive searches from both land and air. Authorities have now given up hope of finding any survivors. And the search has been abandoned.”

Instead of a Lockheed Airliner the searchers had found a USAAF B-25 Mitchell Bomber, it may well have come as a surprise.  On the day after the crash it appears that no one had any real idea as to the identity of the supposed crash on Mt. Bartle Frere.  It wasn’t just the Cairns Post that thought this supposed crash a figment of the imagination of the towns people of Babinda.  If for no other reason then to prove these doubters wrong the towns people began to organize a search party.

Parties of men headed of in search of the plane, each with their own idea as to where the plane had crashed and the best and fastest way of getting there. It appears that there was a widespread belief or hope that there would be survivors. This was no doubt based on false hope, but the thought of aviators lying injured on the mountain did not bear thinking about, it was time for action.  The memory of the crash in the Lamington Ranges and how Bernard O’Reilly had found the survivors long after every one else had given them all up for dead was still fresh in every mind.  There must be survivors.  It wasn’t fame that drove these men but the belief that there would be survivors. While the town folk planned the rescue of survivors the authorities were most anxious to confirm the identity of the wreck, was it really the Lockheed or that of a Japanese Plane. If the plane was Japanese than the Invasion Fleet was even closer than thought.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Robert Jago for his assistance with this home page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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©  Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 29 October 2002

This page last updated 31 August 2015