ON 15 JULY 1942


At about 4:00pm on 15 July 1942, a P-400 aircraft piloted by 1st Lt. Joseph P. Cole (0396106) of the 80th Fighter Squadron of the 8th Fighter Group, USAAF, based at Petrie Airfield, crashed into Moreton Bay in front of the RAAF Station at Sandgate, just north of Brisbane.  He was on a practice alert mission at the time.

Earlier in the day 2nd Lieutenant Travis C. Ferguson (0431958) misjudged his distance from the water on a mission over Moreton Bay.  He was killed when his left wing clipped the water causing his aircraft to crash.  Cole's aircraft crashed no more than half a mile from Ferguson's aircraft.

Sgt. J.C. Craig of the Accounts Section, Sandgate WAAAF, gave the following commentary of both crashes.


Time may have dulled the memory in relation to the exact date but not to the fateful events which took place on a certain day, somewhere around the middle of the year in 1942.

It was just another routine day on the base, squads of WAAAFs marching up and down the parade ground, and the RAAF Personnel coming and going.

Down in the Headquarters orderley room, based on the foreshore of the bay, we went about our daily duties.  Suddenly the air was rent by the sound of a low flying aircraft.  We had become accustomed to this since our American Force Friends had moved on to the Strathpine airfield, and used the Sandgate Camp as a target for shooting up the enemy.  On this occasion the pilot did a couple of low runs across the base, coming in from the west, very low across the parade ground, making a turn out over the water, and coming at us again.   However on one of these turns he was so low that when he banked to come around, his wing hit the mud, the tide being out.  There, before our very eyes his plane nose dived into the mud, killing the pilot.

We were still in a state of unrest from this event and trying to carry on with our work, when around 1600 hours, a drone was heard out to sea, immediately in front of HQ orderley room.

We all waited and watched with disbelief as a plane nose dived from a great height, straight into the sea.  We all held our breath, willing the pilot to pull out of the dive, but he seemed to make no effort to do so.   Speculation or rumour at the time was that he was a buddy of the pilot killed earlier in the day, the truth of which I suppose we will never know. 

Lt. Colonel Sponenbergh, USAAF, believes that the two men had no close association.  Sponenbergh had the duty of collecting Lt. Cole's personal effects.  He was appointed Summary Courts Officer for that purpose by the USAAF and he despatched the personal effects to Cole's next of kin.  Sponenbergh indicated that the cause of death was unknown as the body had not been recovered.


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There were two more fatal Airacobra accidents near Redcliffe on 15 July 1942 as follows:-


Collision of two P-400 Airacobras
over Redcliffe on 2 July 1942


Crash of a P-400 Airacobra
into sea near Redcliffe on 15 July 1942


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This page first produced 21 February 1999

This page last updated 25 February 2020