CRASH OF A B-25D MITCHELL
25 MILES NORTH &
SLIGHTLY EAST OF COOKTOWN
ON 20 DECEMBER 1942
USAAF B-25D Mitchell #41-29709, "Eight Ball Esquire", of the 13th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group, crashed into the sea about 25 miles north and slightly east of Cooktown on 20 December 1942.
It had taken off from Cooktown enroute Port Moresby at 1710 hours on 20 December 1942. Pilot, 1st Lt. William C. Hellriegel, had to feather the left engine when oil pressure failed and he turned back towards Cooktown. The aircraft lost altitude rapidly and made a hard ditching approximately 25 miles north and slightly east of Cooktown. Of the 12 on board, 7 were injured. They all made it to the beach at a point half way between the mouth of Morgan River and Cape Flattery. 10 stayed behind, two uninjured, Lt. George Schwartz and Crew Chief Sgt. Leo McMann started out early on 21 December 1942 to walk to Cooktown. They walked and swam for two days and reached Cooktown after dark on 23 December 1942. Early the next morning a rescue boat picked up the rest of the crew on a beach after a four hour trip. There were no fatalities. The plane sank in about 3 minutes.
Charley Valade, one of Jack Heyn's tent mates who was on "8 Ball Esquire" when it it ditched in the Coral Sea. He got back and lived to fly another day.
B-25D Mitchell #41-29709, "Eight Ball Esquire" was received by the AAF on 1 July 1942 and flown to McClellan Army Air Field (Sacramento, CA) from the North American manufacturing plant in Kansas. It was modified while at McClellan, and then sent to Hamilton Field, CA, on 1 July 1942. On 13 August 1942, the aircraft returned to the Sacramento Air Depot at McClellan for more modifications, and returned to Hamilton Field on the 15 August 1942. On 2 September 1942, it went to Australia with the 13th Bomb Squadron, 3rd Bomb Group. It was written off as unrepairable on December 24th, 1942 after crashing into the sea on 20 December 1942.
Dean Cropp, has dived on the wreckage and has dug through the mud in zero visibility to find and recover a 50 cal from the nose and a second (flexible nose gun with handles). He also found two smaller machine guns with sights and handles, possibly 30 cal. He also found plenty of ammunition. He was able to determine that the aircraft had a 50 cal mounted nose gun, a 50 cal flexible nose gunners gun and two 30cal loose in the nose section.
The wreckage of "8 Ball Esquire" is lying upside down and about two-thirds covered in mud. It is lying in about 18 metres of water, with the landing gear behind engines extended on both sides. The nose wheel has fallen back into its compartment however at a strange angle. Both the landing gear doors and the bomb bay doors are missing or have collapsed inwards and are now covered in silt. The nose is open probably torn away on landing. Both engines are there and seem mostly intact and drooped forward, with no propellers visible, possibly under the sand.
It is with regret that I advise that former Crew Chief of "8 Ball Esquire", Sgt. Leo J. McMann, passed away at the VA Hospital, Mather on Christmas Eve 2010.
I'd like to thank Mike McMann, Jack Heyn , Dean Cropp, and Justin Taylan for their assistance with this web page.
I would like to thank Larry Hickey for the above information on this crash. He has many photos of this aircraft, including the one above, by Jack Heyn.
I'd like to thank T/Sgt Phillip Fleming, 509 BW/HPC and Ms. Margaret DePalma, 509th BW Historian, for their assistance with this web page.
SOURCE:- Aircraft Crash Sites - Australia
Crash: No. 94
Position: 14.11 - 144.14
Department of Aviation Chart No: 3112
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 18 June 1999
This page last updated 28 December 2015