CRASH OF A C-49H (DC-3)
AT HIGGINS FIELD, QLD
ON 5 MAY 1945

 

USAAF Douglas C-49H (DC-3) VHCXD, # 44-83228 operated by Australian National Airways (A.N.A.) under charter for military purposes and utilising RAAF aircrew left Archerfield airfield in Brisbane at 8:39pm on 4 May 1945 on the regular courier trip to New Guinea.

While circling to land at Higgins Field in far north Queensland it crashed at 5:18am on 5 May 1945 when it struck the top of a hill while landing in darkness. It crashed and was partially burnt, incinerating the crew and passengers. There were six personnel on board who were all killed-

 

Flying Officer William Ernest Clarke 277547 A.N.A. Civilian pilot RAAF Reserve, aged 42 years
W/O James Hillman Hornbrook (21 yrs) 432183 2nd pilot 4 Communications Unit, Archerfield
F/Sgt Neville Tasman Browne (21 yrs) 436542 2nd pilot under instruction 4 Communications Unit, Archerfield
W/O Alfred Henry Gidley (30 yrs) 415975 W. Op (A) 4 Communications Unit, Archerfield
Sgt Henry E. Doherty * 32337697   322 Troop Carrier Wing, US Military
Cpl Rudolph M. Kozen * 16022995   322 Troop Carrier Wing, US Military
possible 3rd US passenger      US Military

        * both members of the 322 Troop Carrier Wing were buried in the Ipswich US Military Cemetery on 9 May 1945 by Chaplain North,

 


Photo:- via Michael Rook

The wreckage Douglas C-49H (DC-3) VHCXD, # 44-83228

 

The military authorities initially thought that there may have been a third US Military passenger who had boarded the aircraft at Townsville. This was later confirmed as being incorrect.

 


Photo:- via Michael Musumeci

Plaque erected in memory of all those who died

 

W/O James Hillman Hornbrook

 


Photo: Peter Schink
el

C-47 Dakota and Memorial at Bamaga on 2 July 2003

 

The RAAF personnel killed were initially buried at Jacky Jacky War Cemetery on 6 May 1945. They were later relocated to the Townsville War Cemetery at Belgian Gardens in Townsville.

 


Photo: Peter Schink
el

C-47 Dakota and Memorial at Bamaga on 2 July 2003

 


Photo:- via Michael Musumeci

Wreckage of the DC-3

 


Photo:- via Michael Musumeci

Another view of the wreckage of the DC-3

 


Photo:- via Michael Musumeci

More wreckage of the DC-3

This aircraft had started its life as a commercial DC-3-194B, c/n 1941, PH-ALT and became PK-ALT when it transferred to KNILM on 2 June 1940. The DC-3 was one of a number of aircraft which escaped the Netherlands East Indies arriving in Australia on 1 May 1942. Ownership of this aircraft was transferred to the Australian government on 19 March 1942.

It was transferred to the USAAF (ADAT) on 15 May 1942. Operation of this aircraft as taken over by A.N.A on 6 December 1942 as VH-CXD. On 14 June 1944 it was redesignated as a C-49H with serial number #44-83228. Operation of this aircraft was taken over by 33 Squadron RAAF on 17 March 1945.

 


Photo:- via Michael Musumeci

Tail of VHCXD

 

Bob Livingstone provided me with the following history for this aircraft:-

VHCXD 1941 Douglas DC-3-194B

04/37 assembled Cherbourg AHG Fokker

10/04/37 del KLM;stbd pax door

05/05/37 reg PH-ALT KLM Torenvalk (Kestrel)

02/06/40 PK-AFW KLM Far East Batavia op KNILM

24/01/42 DAM by Zekes on t/o Samarinda II, last KLM a/c to leave Java;Capt V. Rees; 6 injured

04/03/42 in Australia;last KLM a/c to arr

19/03/42 C/W of A for 5 pounds marked PH-ALT

28/03/42 lsd USAAF marked 11941

15/05/42 to 18/05/42 dd USAAF Archerfield

18/05/42 21TCS Holey Joe; referred to as VH-ALT or 41-1941

17/08/42 DAM Ward's EA; callsign CXD painted on

23/09/42 DAM Cooktown;rebuilt by 61 Service Sqn, 42 22TCS

10/10/42 to 28/11/42 CAC mod; large hatch replacing stbd door

06/12/42 assigned to ANA

07/12/42 dd ANA Archerfield

11/12/42 CofA X3

28/02/43 conv freighter

14/06/44 all serial 44-83228 C-49H-DO USAAF

15/11/44 offered for sale to Australian a/l

15/03/45 33 Sqn RAAF/ANA

08/04/45 Finschafen-Nadzab (Pilot Capt Hill)

05/05/45 CR 2 miles W Higgins @ 0518 on flt from Archerfield with fresh meat for Moresby; hit trees on approach in poor vis Capt. William Ernest Clarke ANA, W/OFF W.H. Hornibrook RAAF, 2 other RAAF crew & 2 US Army pax kld

? wreck fenced off as memorial

 

 


 

Chris Bampton contacted me in January 2005 and advised he was researching the aircraft flown by his father, Dick Bampton, in both the RAAF and later with ANA to the time of his death. His Flying Log shows that he flew this aircraft several times after he was transferred to 4 Communications Flight Archerfield to fly alongside ANA pilots in 1943. He remained there until his discharge from the RAAF in Jan 1946.

The first entry in his log for this plane is shown as DC-3, CXD on 2 April 1944 with ANA Capt Hack along with himself , P/O Bennet and Sgt Freeman as crew. This flight was Brisbane - Charleville - Cloncurry - Gorrie - Batchelor - Gorrie - Fenton - Cloncurry - Brisbane, involving 21hr 30min daytime flying and 4hr 15min night flying on 2nd and 3rd of April- a real marathon.

On 23 April 1944 he again flew VHCXD as 2nd pilot to Capt Hack with F/Sgt Herrigan Brisbane- Melbourne (6hr 20min) and returned the next day in 5 hours flying time. In between these dates he flew with Capt McFadden on 4 flights to Melbourne on the DC-5 CHCXC - one of only a few ever built.

Shortly after this he started flying regular flights to New Guinea known as the Night Courier. This often followed the pattern Brisbane - Port Moresby - Dobadura -Nadzab - Finschaven - Lae - Port Moresby - Brisbane taking around 22 flying hours over 4 days often involving several different C49 DC-3 aircraft.

The next time VHCXD appears in his log is for a leg of this night courier service on 27 November 1944 finishing at Archerfield. Where he and Capt Clarke started this flight on CXD is not clear as his log simply shows all the stopping points, including Higginsfield, on the return from various New Guinea stops. This trip also involved CDB and CDC along the way.

Most of the many dozens of other night courier flights were on board a variety of C 49. These include VH-CDG, CDB, CDD, CDC, CDE, CDJ, CXL. These all appear to have been RAAF aircraft handed over to ANA for wartime service.

There has been some confusion as to the ID of this aircraft - Chris Bampton had been told it had call sign VHCXD , not civil registration VH-CXD. However the plaque at the crash site near Bamaga has the hyphenated form. Bruce Hoy confirmed in February 2010 that it carried the call sign VHCXD allocated by the Directorate of Air Transport. The call sign shown on the plaque at the crash site is not correct.

Chris Bampton has visited this site several times over the previous ten years, most recently in July 2003 when a friend and Chris rode mountain bikes from Cairns to the tip of Cape York. Chris's father would no doubt have known Capt Clarke (he flew with him just once in CXD on the night courier) and certainly W/O Hornbrook, F/Sgt Browne and W/O Gidley who were all in the same unit at Archerfield. Chris's father later joined ANA as a pilot, and sadly was himself killed following a ditching at sea whilst piloting the Cairns Aerial Ambulance DH 89 Rapide VH-CFA (2) in 1953. He and the ambulance bearer escaped the ditching at sea, but his father was injured and did not survive. The ambulance bearer was picked up after some 18 hours in the water.

 

Chris Bampton at the crash site in July 2003

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Michael Rook, Bruce Hoy, Chris Bampton, Bob Livingstone, Michael Musumeci, Daniel Leahy, Gordon Birkett and Peter Schinkel for their assistance with this home page.

 

REFERENCE

US Aircraft Serial Number Search

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 29 September 2004

This page last updated 08 June 2018