CRASH OF A B-17 FLYING FORTRESS?
AT EWAN, NEAR MT. FOX, NORTH QLD
ON 7 MAY 1942

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B-17E Flying Fortress

 

USAAF B-17E #41-2652 of the 19th Bombardment Group crashed at Ewan about 55 kms south west of Mt. Fox, and to the west of Paluma. Major Habberstad (or Habberstrad) and his crew parachuted from the aircraft and all survived.

 

Map of crash locality

 

1st Lt. Edward C. Habberstad 0-380242, formerly
9th Bomb Squadron, 7th Bomb Group in 1941

Capt. Edward C. Habberstad, was Executive Officer of the 19th Bomb Group until the Table of Organization was changed to provide for the Executive Officer becoming Deputy Group Commander and retained this position until approximately 1 July 1943 when he was relieved and transferred to the 46th Bombardment Wing, Dalhart, Texas.

This aircraft was delivered at Lowry, USA on 5 March  1942. It was assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group in Hawaii on 13 April 1942. It was written off on 31 October 1944.

During the Battle of the Coral Sea between 4 - 8 May 1942, the US radar station at Paluma manned by the 565th Signal Battalion tracked a target aircraft early one afternoon coming in from the ocean and crossing the coast about 30 miles north of Paluma. Later that night a few trucks stopped at their camp at Paluma. They were carrying the crew of B-17 Flying Fortress #41-2652 that had crashed somewhere to the west of Paluma. They fed the crew and left for Townsville accompanied by the 565th's doctor. The B-17 had been involved in operations to do with the Battle of the Coral Sea.

It may be possible that B-17E #41-2652 was one of the three B-17's that thought they had spotted Japanese Task Group 17.3 in the Coral Sea and dropped their bombs in error on HMAS Australia, USS Farragut and USS Perkins of the Anzac Squadron. B-17 Flying Fortress #41-2631 of the 19th Bombardment Group piloted by Major Jaques crash landed at Charters Towers on the same day, namely 7 May 1942.

Nathan Best told me on 12 January 2001 that as a kid he remembered hearing that the wreck of the B-17 was still there and he wondered if it was still there now.

Phillip Smith grew up as a child on a cattle station in the late sixties early seventies west of Townsville. He had his first introduction to the relics of the war in the form of a crashed B-17 bomber on Mt Full Stop Station, 5 minutes from where he lived. He told me that it was funny to think now, that due to a crashed plane and stories of the perils of flying in those heady days of the war, that he found such a romance about it all that he was compelled to become a pilot himself, which he did.

Phillip Smith's interests in the old war birds started when his Grandfather took him to see the sight of a Flying Fortress crash on the banks, or just back from the banks of the Clarke River on Mt Fullstop Station when he was about 12 years of age. At that time there was not much left of the old war bird that was distinguishable as a plane to Phillip. He was expecting to see a nice but slightly dented and scratched olive green bird. However, this bird was once silver as the wings and tail were still there and other assorted bits and pieces of twisted metal. There was a lot of spent and unspent rounds still on the ground of which he has one still.

Phillip Smith clearly remembers that the aircraft came down between two small peaks in a hill and collided with a large tree. The scar could still be seen in the tree. There was still a lot of the aircraft left when he was a boy. Phillip's school buddy was with them at the time, and he picked up a round that was from a pistol. Phillip said that he may still have this today as he used to keep it in a match box with cotton wool. Phillip's Father picked up a key ring that had a slightly melted polar bear attached to it. Phillip found a part of the plane that his father said was the pitot tube. He was training to be a pilot at that time so he recognised it. Phillip kept this part for a long time but then the novelty wore off and it was discarded along the road of life. Phillip kicks himself now for losing it because as a private pilot himself he now knows how important that piece of equipment was to the skipper of that plane as the pitot tube was a major part of the aircraft's instruments and without it no missions would have been flown anywhere. 

Phillip went back to look at the crash site a couple of years ago with his uncle and another friend only to find that it had been picked away at for a long time by scrap collectors and souvenir hunters from a local railway gang and there is nothing to be seen today. At one time there was a section of tail plane at the old Clarke River Telegraph Station but Phillip believes that it is probably gone by now also. Phillip said that a family friend has or did have one of the engines, a radial header, as a monument on his airstrip at Camel Creek Station near Mount Fox for a long time and it may still be there.

After the crash there was a large encampment positioned not far from the site apparently, possibly for the recovery operation and there was still evidence of this camp there when Phillip was a kid in the way of rusted cans. For no apparent reason there was also more cans on the lower banks of the Burdekin River not far from the previously mentioned site, about a mile and a half in the opposite direction. There was still an old busted army green two-way radio there also. This site was close to a large natural water hole in the Burdekin.

Phillip Smith went on to tell me the following story:-

This is where things start to get stranger. During that time the owners, who are still the owners of Blue Range Station saw a large plane in trouble flying very low and in some kind of trouble. This plane followed the Burdekin very low, low enough to go out of sight as it flew along the river and around a bend. This aircraft had running lights on at the time, this may have been in attempted to try for some kind of visual fix, who knows, but guess where that bend was...yep a stones throw from where the second site was established. The people at the station said that they never saw or heard the plane again but it was always a bit of local folk law that it went into the river at the deepest point called Barker's water hole. Make of it what you will Peter, it may just be a good story but the second camp puts a strange twist on things don't you think?

The now unused Greenvale railway line passes very close to the crash site so its location has been no secret over the years. The last thing Phillip Smith ever saw of the aircraft was one wing lying out in front of the Clarke River Telegraph Station and that was back in the mid eighties. Phillip had called in there to show a friend some old remote graves some walking distance from the station when he happened upon the wing lying in the grass. Phillip was surprised to see it there as the last time he had seen it it was lying at the crash site. Phillip thinks it had been recovered and dropped there by a scrap dealer.

 


 

On 27 March 1944, the Commanding Officer of 7 Stores Depot (RAAF) at Toowoomba wrote a memo to HQ No. 5 (Maintenance) Group, Darling Point, NSW mentioning that Captain J.W. Mott of 1st Aust. Army had heard during a recent tour of the northern districts, that what he believed was an American B-17 Flying Fortress, had crashed near Blue Range Cattle Station which is north west of Charters Towers in north Queensland. The crew had apparently parachuted out of the aircraft which flew a further 40 miles before it crashed at a location 3 miles SE of Blue Range Cattle Station (19 9' 42" South, 145 25' 6" East) in Queensland, or 6 miles SE of Christmas Creek 19 5' 53" South, 145 21' 5" East, and 5 miles north of Clarke River Telegraph Station.

 

 

It is believed the aircraft had been forced inland by bad weather and had run low on fuel while returning to Townsville from a bombing raid to New Guinea.

George Town, a good friend of Wing Commander Rundle, was droving a herd of cattle to the Townsville meat works at the time of this incident. He heard an aircraft fly over after dusk. He was lying on his swag at the time and noticed a "funny little white cloud" drifting downwards, which he thought was a bit strange for a cloud. He mounted a night horse and followed the descending "white cloud". He soon found a parachute hanging in a bush. Then he heard a male voice calling out. George rode very quietly up behind the American and whispered "Quiet! Do you want to frighten those bloody bullocks!" The American almost jumped out of his skin with fright.

George took the American back to his camp, and then located the rest of the crew. In the morning he rode across to the Clarke River Telegraph Station and contacted the military authorities. The American crew were picked up and made arrangements with George to meet him again when he arrived in Townsville with his cattle.

A salvage party visited the wreck and recovered the engines and decided to abandon the airframe. The report indicates that the fuselage and one wing are almost intact and contain sufficient aluminium to justify a salvage operation. Capt. Mott advised that the first salvage crew may have accesses the wreckage overland from Charters Towers where road access was less than satisfactory. Capt. Mott advised that good access could be made across the Burdekin River via Ingham after April 1944 when the flood waters would have subsided.


Photo:- Iris Mitchell collection via Jamie Janes

Helen Mitchell, Colin Mitchell, Bryant Mitchell with the American salvage party at Clarke River

 

Iris Mitchell and her family )see above photograph) were in charge of the Clarke River Telegraph Station at the time of the crash.

 


 

NOTE:- A search of the NARA site found an Elvin C. Habberstad rather than an Edward C. Habberstad.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

"Paluma The First Eighty Years 1870s-1950s
by Linda Venn

"Diary of WWII - North Queensland"
Complied by Peter Nielsen

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Jamie Janes, Phillip Smith, Gordon Birkett and Pete Johnston for their assistance with this home page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 21 October 2003

This page last updated 29 March 2013