CRASH OF A DOUGLAS DAKOTA
NEAR LAGUNA, NSW
ON 6 MARCH 1944
On 6 March 1944, a USAAF C-47A-70-DL Douglas Dakota #42-100723 (#338) was bringing US troops from New Guinea to Sydney, Australia for R&R during WW2. Many of the men were reported to have been fighter pilots. The aircraft lost its engine over Cessnock in New South Wales and crashed into a field near the small township of Laguna south west of Newcastle. Two men were killed, and 15 men were uninjured. The newspaper report quoted the senior officer as being Captain McGuinness. The C-47 was attached to 70th Troop Carrier Squadron, of the 433rd Transport Carrier Group of the 54th Transport Carrier Wing and was crewed by USAAF Personnel.
2 Central Recovery Depot 2CRD had the following entry in their A50 History cards:-
23/3/44 Salvage party returned from Wollambi, N.S.W. after recovery of Douglas C 47 S/No. 2100723-388.
Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder (NSW : 1913 - 1954), Friday 10 March 1944, page 3
AMERICAN AIRMEN ON LEAVE CRASH AT LAGUNA
Two Men Killed in Parachute Descents. Some Remarkable Escapes.
On Monday afternoon a Douglas troop carrying transport, piloted by Americans, and carrying men from New Guinea to Sydney on leave, crash landed at Laguna. Calls for assistance were sent to Cessnock Hospital, and a request made to have 20 beds ready for casualties. Cessnock doctors immediately proceeded to Laguna, accompanied by ambulances, to render immediate assistance.
The plane was proceeding at a height of about 14,000 feet when an airscrew broke away and crashed into the right wing of the plane, causing great damage. The plane rapidly lost height, and the men were ordered to bail out. Most of them were fighter pilots, and it was their first jump from a plane during the war. At this time the plane had just sufficient room to clear the range of wooded mountains: When the men were ordered to jump, altitude had dropped to about 3,000 feet. Fifteen of the men left the plane, but two of the last three crashed with unopened parachutes. One came down at the back of the Laguna wine shop. One of the surviving airmen struck a poplar tree and was catapulted into the creek, where there was a great depth of water. He became entangled in his parachute, but was rescued by Mr. A. Brown, of Laguna.
Another of the parachutists landed in a tree, and Mr. A. Forbes, of Laguna, cut the tree down, and the airman floated to the ground. One of the parachutists suffered an injury to one of his feet, and several small bones were broken. The others escaped with very minor injuries, but all suffered a certain amount of shock.
The feat of the pilot was one of the most remarkable ever seen. With his right wing torn to ribbons, and one of the engines having fallen out of the machine, he had a great problem facing him which needed quick thought.
He said he realised he would have to land leaning to the good wing. If the landing had been effected with the bearing on the right wing, the plane would have turned over and the occupants probably killed. He succeeded in landing in a remarkably small area when his plane touched the ground at a speed of about 100 m.p.h. The cowling was forced into the pilot's seat in a remarkable manner and settled around his legs without touching them. The under-carriage was smashed, but the clever pilot brought the ship to a level landing. The five men in the plane were thrown about, but escaped injury with the exception of a few bruises. They were high in their praise of the skill of the pilot.
THE CO-PILOT stated that the men were playing a game of poker when they were ordered to jump.
All the parachutists were taken to Cessnock Hospital, and left for Sydney on Wednesday afternoon, in an American bomber which had to make two flights for that purpose.
Before leaving, Captain McGuinness, the senior officer of the party, expressed his thanks to the Secretary of the Hospital Board (Mr. J. Brown) for the wonderful treatment they had received at the hands of the nursing staff of the Cessnock Hospital, and asked him to convey the thanks of the whole of the men to the directors of the institution.
When they arrived at the hospital a hot meal was awaiting them.
During Tuesday the people of Cessnock did everything possible to entertain the American airmen, who spoke highly Of the hospitality of the Cessnock people.
ONE PILOT FROM NORTH CALIFORNIA SAID THE FEW HOURS HE HAD SPENT IN CESSNOCK WOULD REMAIN IN HIS MEMORY THROUGHOUT HIS LIFE. HE HAD NEVER MET SUCH HOSPITABLE PEOPLE, AND THEY DID EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO MAKE THEIR SHORT STAY HAPPY. HE ADDED THAT, UNLIKE SOME CENTRES OF AUSTRALIA, THERE WAS NO ATTEMPT TO FLEECE THE AMERICANS.
Several of the men wanted to stay in Cessnock to complete their leave, but this permission would not be granted by Captain McGuinness until they had all reported to American Headquarters in Sydney.
PROMPT ACTION BY WOLLOMBI WOMAN.
Mrs. G. Andrews, of Wollombi, a member of the Air Observers' Corps, saw the airscrew smash into the plane's wing. She was on duty at the Observation Station and was watching the plane through field glasses.
Mrs. Andrews said she saw the airscrew whirl into the starboard wing, and there was an awful noise. Her blood ran cold as pieces of metal began to shower from the plane and black smoke came from the engine. The plane dropped quickly. As it headed south, the side door swung open and seven men jumped out. They disappeared in the mountains. Mrs. D. Rose saw the last of the men jump. 'Two of the parachutes did not open.
THE PILOT OF THE PLANE SAID HAD THE FIFTEEN MEN NOT JUMPED, EVERYONE ON BOARD WOULD HAVE BEEN KILLED.
When the men jumped, it lightened the plane and enabled him to effect a crash landing. But for the lightening of the plane, it would have crashed into the mountain ridge owing to the manner in which it lost altitude.
One of the parachutists said that most of the men were fighter pilots, and he was sure none of them had ever jumped from a plane before. Five men jumped immediately, one after the other. When he jumped he thought he must have turned over, because he remembered seeing the tail of the plane. Then the opening parachute of the man in front struck him in the face. He then pulled the rlpcord. Had he waited the regulation time, the parachute would not have opened before he touched the ground. He came down so fast that he could not see where he was going. On the way down he hit a tree, and then hit the ground, which stunned him.
THERE WAS ANOTHER STRANGE INCIDENT. ONE OF THE MEN WHO STRUCK THE GROUND AND WAS KILLED WAS BADLY SMASHED, BUT HIS WRIST WATCH WAS TICKING WHEN THE BODY WAS PICKED UP.
When one of the American airmen was told that they had come down at Laguna, he replied: "When I get back to the States, every time I hear that song 'The Lily of Laguna' I will think of the descent at Laguna on March 6, 1944"
Back on 7 June 2011, Mike Nelmes, who was then with the Military Technology are of the Australian War Memorial, contacted me and advised that the Australian War Memorial was about to purchase a parachute from this C-47 Dakota. Mike had only heard a vague story of it, from Mr Harold Sternbeck (Sternbeck Real Estate) of Cessnock who witnessed the crash.
The parachute was an Australian-made RAAF example, indicating that either the Americans were being supplied with RAAF equipment which Mike had thought unlikely, or that there may have been an Australian on board.
Harold Sternbeck thought the C-47 was RAAF-crewed (not correct), carrying US personnel. His recollection was that it had an engine failure, and the two who died bailed out too low.
The Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder, Friday 10 March 1944
I'd like to thank Professor Miranda J Lawry of The University of Newcastle, Australia for assistance with this home page.
Professor Miranda J Lawry is interested in details of the crash, crew, accident report or specifications of the aircraft, such as aircraft serial number. Professor Lawry is producing an exhibition and publication centred on the crash of this aircraft.
I'd also like to thank Mike Nelmes and Gordon Birkett for his assistance with this web page.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
"Australia @ War" Research Products
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 6 June 2001
This page last updated 19 December 2016