CRASH OF A LOCKHEED 14W
AT ANNABURRO STATION, NT
ON 21 APRIL 1942

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On 21 April 1942, a Guinea Airways Ltd. Lockheed 14W  VH-ADY "Adelaide", carrying 10 members of the American 49th Interceptors Control Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group crashed into a hill on Annaburro Station, 6 miles from Burrundi, and 23 miles north west of Pine Creek in the Northern Territory on a flight from Daly Waters to Batchelor. Including the two RAAF crew members, 12 personnel lost their lives on that tragic day.

 


Photo:- AHSA Aviation Heritage Vol. 26, No. 4 via Bob Piper

Guinea Airways Ltd. Lockheed 14W  VH-ADY "Adelaide"

 

The 49th Interceptors Control Squadron had left the HQ training centre in Sydney in mid March 1942 for additional classified training in teletype, radio and wireless with the RAAF in Brisbane. In mid April 1942 their commanding officer, Wurtsmith, ordered them to rejoin their unit at Darwin. They were scheduled to refit at Batchelor airfield by the end of April 1942 and then set up a permanent base at "Jungle Jump" about 5 miles north of the 8th Pursuit Squadron's new 27 Mile Strip.

On 21 April 1942, the 10 men were in one of three transport aircraft hired by the RAAF headed for Batchelor airfield. They were due to arrive just before sunset. Their aircraft was unable to locate Batchelor due to low clouds which were part of a broad weather front in the area. The ground personnel at Batchelor heard a twin engined transport fly southwards over the airfield. The burnt out wreckage of the Lockheed 14W was found 2 months later by Constable Joe Doyle and his aboriginal trackers on Annaburro Station, 60 miles southeast of Adelaide River.

The bodies of the two RAAF crew were handed over to Australian officials. They were as follows:-

Flight Lieutenant Duncan Gordon Cameron (287418) (probably 3 Squadron RAAF)
Flying Officer William Thomas Gray (287419) (3 Squadron RAAF)

The bodies of the ten American personnel were recovered on 28 June 1942. They were as follows:-

Pvt. William V. "Bill" Bedford (39303940)
Cpl. Anthony A. "Tony" Gattamelata (15069706)
Pvt Robert W. George (37082942)
Pvt Nick Hinich (36022487)
Cpl Ray E. Love (13032649)
Pvt John J. Faris (6944576)
Pvt Walter M. Feret (16035030)
Pvt Richard D. "Dick" Schmidt (16046323)
Pvt Burford  H. Willard (38003333)
Pvt Wyatt  H. Wyley (6794725)

They were interred at the American cemetery at Adelaide River in the Northern Territory. Their loss had a large impact on the rest of the 49th Fighter Group. They were later exhumed and interred at the Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney, NSW. They were eventually exhumed again in November/December 1947 and relocated by rail to a Mausoleum No. 4 at Redbank west of Brisbane. Caskets from both Rookwood (465 souls) and Ipswich US Cemetery (1,406 souls) were then loaded onboard USAT Goucher Victory in the Brisbane River. The caskets containing US servicemen left Brisbane on board USAT Goucher Victory before Christmas 1947. USAT Goucher Victory then travelled to Guadalcanal where the caskets were unloaded and then loaded onto the USAT Cardinal O'Connell along with 3,346 souls recovered from Guadalcanal which then travelled to Hawaii.

 


Photo:- AHSA Aviation Heritage Vol. 26, No. 4 via Bob Piper

Some of the wreckage recovered from Guinea
Airways Ltd. Lockheed 14W  VH-ADY "Adelaide"

 


 

A search of the Trove Newspaper web site finds first mention of this missing aircraft in The Cairns Post, Friday, 24 April 1942, where it reported as follows:-

“Search for the airliner missing since Tuesday 21st.  with ten passengers and two crew have to date proved unsuccessful.  The plane a Guinea Airways Lockheed 14 was on “Special Work” for the Department of Civil Aviation.”

A search over a wide area of Northern Australia was carried out for this aircraft without success. Stories about the mystery aircraft spread and there was speculation, some of which had always sounded very far fetched as to the identity of these "very important passengers" and its very valuable cargo. 

On the day of the crash, some people in the town of Babinda reported a flash in the direction of Mt. Bartle Frere and noises similar to an engine cutting out. Little did they know that they had probably witnessed another crash, that of a USAAF B-25C Mitchell bomber which had crashed on the same day into Mt. Bartle Frere. It was returning to Charters Towers from a search mission in the Coral Sea.

On Anzac Day, Saturday 25 April 1942, The Cairns Post makes mention of the search at Babinda:-

REPORTS  OF  FLASH

Lead to Search

Lost Plane Theory

Reports received in Babinda on Tuesday that a flash in the direction of Mt. Bartle Frere had been seen and that a noise similar to that of a plane engine cutting out had been heard led to the undertaking of searches in the rough mountain country. Searches were hampered by extremely bad weather conditions, which made visibility in the thick scrub almost impossible, while the presence of thousands of leeches made progress exceptionally hazardous.  Up to the present, however, no result has been attained. The theory is held in some quarters that the reports may have been inspired by the official statement that a Lockheed Hudson plane engaged on special work for the Civil Aviation Department in North Australia had not been located. Residents of Babinda last night still believing the reports may have been founded on fact, continued efforts to solve the mystery.

The following Monday 27 April 1942 The Cairns Post reported:-

“The search for the airliner with ten passengers and two crew which has been in progress since last Tuesday has proved fruitless”

The Innisfail paper “The Evening Advocate”, appears to have thought it to be the missing Lockheed up to and including the day the wreckage was finally found. 

The Evening Advocate                                                  Wednesday, April 29, 1942

LAND SEARCH PARTIES NEAR SITE OF WRECKED PLANE?

“ Hacking desperately through the tangled beard of tropical undergrowth that clothes the face of Bartle Frere, search parties are nearing the burnt patch reported by a searching plane yesterday.  This patch is believed to mark the spot where an airliner, reported missing last week, crashed with a large number of passengers on board.” 

This report goes on to report on the progress being made on the search in the Babinda area.  Another passage in this report is of interest:-

“Of outstanding merit was the flying achievement of the pilot of the search plane, who handled his machine with masterly skill in difficult country, to locate the clue which is expected to solve a mystery that has concerned all  Australia for more than a week.”

Once it was discovered that the searchers had found a USAAF B-25 Mitchell Bomber and not this mystery Lockheed 14W airliner they appear to have dropped the story. The crashed B-25 Mitchell was not news but the Lockheed 14W was.

The search for the Lockheed 14W continued to be covered until Saturday the 10 May 1942.

The Cairns Post reported:-  

“The Lockheed Airliner missing since April 21th, with ten passengers and Pilot Capt. D.G. Cameron and First Officer C.H. Gray has not been located despite extensive searches from both land and air. Authorities have now given up hope of finding any survivors. And the search has been abandoned.”

Instead of a Lockheed Airliner the searchers found a USAAF B-25 Mitchell Bomber. On the day after the crash it appears that no one had any real idea as to the identity of the supposed crash on Mt. Bartle Frere.  It wasn’t just the Cairns Post that thought this supposed crash a figment of the imagination of the towns people of Babinda.  If for no other reason then to prove these doubters wrong the towns people began to organize a search party. Parties of men headed of in search of the plane, each with their own idea as to where the plane had crashed and the best and fastest way of getting there. 

 

REFERENCES

"Allied Air Transport Operations South West Pacific Area in WWII - Volume One", page 183
by Robert H. Kelly

"RAAF Command Headquarters - Report on loss of civil Lockheed - VH-ADY 21/4/1942", NAA Barcode 470546

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Robert Jago for his assistance with this web page.

I'd also like to thank Bob Piper for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?

 

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This page first produced 2 June 2000

This page last updated 19 April 2020