CRASH OF A CATALINA IN THE CORAL SEA
OFF THE QUEENSLAND COAST

ON 2 MAY 1944

 

catalina01.jpg (9850 bytes)
Catalina

 

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-32 (USN 08156), crashed on take-off and sank in the Coral Sea on 2 May 1944. The Captain of the Catalina was Squadron Leader Geoffrey William Coventry.

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Coventry (457) was appointed Commanding Officer of 11 Squadron, RAAF in Cairns, north Queensland in March 1944.

On 2 May 1944, S/Ldr Coventry responded to a distress call from a United States Army vessel F-117 which urgently required a pump to remove water from its engine room. After locating the vessel, some 500 miles from Cairns in the Coral Sea, Sqn Ldr Coventry circled the area a few times to inspect the water for a suitable location to land. There was a swell of approximately 11 feet and a 15 knot wind across the waves at about 30 degrees which was causing choppy seas. Coventry decided to land in a spot which appeared to have less swell. The Army vessel was accompanied by three other ships including a Tug. The approximate location was 16 degrees 15 minutes South and 154 degrees, 50 minutes East.

The Catalina was brought in at about 70 knots and touched tail first whilst still travelling quite fast. The aircraft bounced a little, then hit the top of a very large swell, and dropped for an appreciable time. The impact dislodged earphones and such like and knocked out six rivets in the pilot's compartment and four in the Navigator's compartment. The 1st Engineer reported buckles in the hull and engine nacelles.

With great difficulty, S/Ldr Coventry transferred the pump to the Army vessel. A taxiing test was tried across the swells and Sqn Ldr Coventry decided to continue on into a take-off. The Catalina was swung down wind and commenced to bounce off the swells, hitting very hard. The engines were then pulled off at approximately 40 knots and the attempted takeoff abandoned. Rivets were now gone in the Engineer's compartment. The Fitter IIA had stated before taxiing that the hull was damaged and likely to break up. The 1st W.O.A.G. stated that at the time some of the stringers in the Navigator's compartment were buckled and the small transmitter had been dislodged and had to be tied down.

The Captain conferred with the crew and decided that it was best to attempt another takeoff. The aircraft was bilged and another takeoff was attempted almost into the wind and slightly across the swell. On approximately the third bounce the aircraft hit the swell at a slight angle and broke in two places. One at the No. 2 Bulkhead and the other mid way between No. 4 and No. 5 Bulkheads.

This caved in the Captain's side of the compartment and killed him instantly. The aircraft did not sink immediately, and the other eight crew members escaped through the openings in the hull and blister compartments. Use was made of one of the rubber dinghies by some of the crew to reach the Tug which had moved round and was standing by off the port quarter. The others were thrown life lines and hauled on board the Tug.

The bow of the aircraft was by then all under water and the tail from the blister aft was standing high out of the water. The Tug was backed up to the port wing tip and a line passed over the wing tip float. The Tug went ahead in the hope of trying to raise the forward section of the hull in an attempt to retrieve the body of Squadron Leader G.W. Coventry. However the wing broke  at the port joint and then the tow line sheared through the float itself and the line came free, No further attempt was made to raise the hull.

A boat was still standing by the aircraft when the remainder of the crew departed for Milne Bay on board the Tug.

The following is a list of the full crew members of Catalina A24-32:-

Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey William Coventry (457) - Captain - killed
F/Lt J. Le Gay Brereton (260697) - 2nd Pilot
F/O R.L. Bodie (401487) - Navigator "B"
F/O Kenneth Willmott Towns (409345) - 1st W.O.A.G.
F/Sgt Keith Reginald Paris (419005) - 2nd W.O.A.G.
Sgt. R.M. Draper (24175) - 1st Engineer
Sgt Douglas Sykes (23912) - 2nd Engineer
LAC A/Sgt C.B. McL Lucas (12372) - Fitter 11A / AG
Sgt Stanley William A. Leek (13848) - Armourer / AG

This aircraft was originally delivered to the RAAF in January 1943. 

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

Catalina at Caboolture Air Show 15 May 2004

 

A Catalina at Mackay Airport - 1961

 

A Catalina at Mackay airport - 1961

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I'd like to thank George Woods of Caloundra for his assistance in providing some information on the crash of A24-32.

I'd also like to thank Fred T.L. Wilson for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

I need your help

Copyright

 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 20 March 2000

This page last updated 10 August 2015