ON 19 MARCH 1945


A C-47B-25 DK Dakota, KN343, c/n 32659, VM-YAT, with a crew of four and 24 passengers ditched into the ocean 150 miles south of Port Moresby on 19th March 1945 en route from Madang to Townsville via Jackson. The pilot of the Dakota was Flying Officer Frank Leslie Carnell (RAF) of 243 Squadron, 300 Wing. All 24 passengers survived the water emergency landing and took to the dinghies. 

Carnell was subsequently awarded an A.F.C. Below is a copy of the endorsement by Carnell's commanding officer:-

On 19th March 1945, Flying Officer Carnell was captain of Dakota KN343 flying from Port Moresby to Townsville when failure of both engines necessitated a ditching approximately 150 miles south of Port Moresby with 10-15 feet seas running in which flying boats were unable to land.

Due to his coolness, initiative and great skill the lives of his 24 passengers and four crew were saved in spite of the fact that only two rubber dinghies were available and 22 hours elapsed before they were taken aboard the rescue craft.


(signed) D.J. Anderson

Officer Commanding
No. 300(T) wing
Royal Air Force


Lennox "Len" Russell Roberts (434013), the co-pilot of the Sunderland, said he was fishing from their Sunderland Flying Boat in Port Moresby when they received the SOS about the C-47 ditching. They took off straight away with a crew of six and seven dinghies on board. Amazingly they spotted a signal pistol about 12 miles away that one of the survivors had fired when they spotted the Sunderland. They flew over the two small rubber dinghies which were full of soldiers in jungle green uniforms. Apparently the pilot of the downed C-47, had grabbed the signal pistol and two cartridges when he escaped the sinking C-47. Len indicated there were 28 "soldiers" aboard the C-47. 

The Sunderland dropped five of the seven dinghies. As the waters were too rough for a landing they then returned to Port Moresby. They returned to the stranded survivors the next day and directed a rescue boat towards the survivors. All 28 men on board the C-47 survived the forced water landing with only minor injuries. In about 2002, Len Roberts of Robertson, Brisbane, located Harry Moffett the radio operator of the crashed C-47 Dakota in a retirement village outside Sydney. The two men have stayed in touch ever since and each year on the anniversary of the rescue, Harry Moffett sends Len Roberts a Thank-you card with a Sunderland Flying Boat on the cover of the card. 

Pam Priest, the daughter of the pilot, is researching this crash and during a visit to Australia in about early 2003, she met the radio operator who sent the mayday message and through him has located the navigator of the Dakota. She also met the person who received the mayday call and alerted the rescue services. She also met a person who knew two of the passengers. Pam has her father's log book and a copy of the log book of the rescue  aircraft (Sunderland No. A26-5) piloted by F/Lt "Charlie" Hugall and co-piloted by Len Roberts. Pam also has a first hand account of the actual ditching together with photographs of the rescue taken from the Sunderland. Pam also has a well worn typed sheet of a list of names which could be a list of the passengers together with the names of the crew.  It was dated 20th March 1945. The sheet says "With the best of luck from A.I.F to the R.A.F."


Goldfish Club
NUMBER	    NAME	               			ADDRESS
NX. 126483   Neville William Fisher            		75, Renwick Street, Drummoyne, N.S.W.
NX. 131628   John "Jack" Thomas Henry Dumas          14, Iandra Streeet, Concord West, N.S.W.
NX. 148903   Russell Stewart Thornton      		40, Lyons Road, Drummoyne, N.S.W.
NX. 156124   Harry George Caddis           		4, Meakin Street, Marylands, N.S.W.
SX. 20363     Clarence "Charlie" Rake               	Kersbrook, S.A.
SX. 23585     Colin Albert Edwards        		27, Putt Street, Kingswood, S.A.
SX. 89553     Robert Allan Ross                   	Mayfield, Victoria.
NX. 149530   Max Selwyn Dyer               		72, Croydon Street, Lakemba, N.S.W.
NX. 156763   John Douglas Pike              		41, Clanwilliam Street, Chatswood, N.S.W.
NX. 143581   Ross Drayton         		77, Lennox Street, N.S.W.
SX. 20241     Reginald Clarence Hudd                    	Box 140, Bordertown, S.A.
NX. 110625   Daniel Tait Sutherland        		8, Inverness, 4, Birriga Bellevue Hill, N.S.W.
V.   220504   James Elvery Cairns               	Ouyen, Victoria.
T.   102008   Athol Thomas Williams             	Hollowtree, via Graetnor, Tasmania.
VX.  61579    Colin Lorrain Baade           		10, Budd Street, North Brighton, Victoria.
NX? 152230  William "Bill" Albert Thomas                 	Castle Street, Castle Hill, N.S.W.
SX.  16404    Morgan Ranembe Hawkes     		20, Walker Street, Somerton, S.A.
NX.  112694  William Robert Mackenzie 		67, Penthurst Street, Penthurst, N.S.W.
VX.  108471  William Oscar Lewis         		52, Mitchel Street, Bendigo, Victoria.
SX.  23260    William "Bill" Ewart Skinner                  	Radina, S.A.
SX. 30019     Burt Ludwig Broad                   	Burra S.A.
SX.  23622   Reginald Kenneth Standish                	Tanunda, S.A.    
                                   R.A.F. AIRCREW
186996    P/O Frank Carnell
1338165  W/O Nutt
1399234  F/Sgt Wrench
1387870  F/Sgt Moffatt
Members of 243 Sqn. R.A.F.



by David Priest

The following sequence of events could quite easily be started with the words 'Once upon a time', but this was not a fairy tale. Although I suspect that to the people who lived through it, they might just consider it to be so.

This was a real life story that several people had been trying to piece together for many years.

To start with our trip to Oz was a last minute arrangement, which was nothing unusual for Pam and I. Normally we discussed this sort of thing. Pam would say 'I've booked some tickets', and I would follow with the question 'Where to?' then as an afterthought I would ask 'When?'

I thought that this year we would not be making our pilgrimage to Oz, because our eldest son and his family would be returning to the U.K. in November for the wedding of our youngest son.

However due to the very recent arrival of our first grandchild Pam was not prepared to wait until November before she could hold him.

So it was that we found ourselves back once again in our favourite country, and as usual we had arranged a one-week side trip. This time we had chosen the Red Centre.

To recap, firstly we were not planning a trip to Oz, and secondly we chose to visit the Red Centre, from the long list of places that we wanted to visit.

After a week or so with the Oz side of the family, Pam and I flew off to Alice Springs.

Our arrangements were three nights in Alice, one night at King's Canyon then onto Ayer's Rock Resort for a further three nights before our return to Sydney.

We arrived at King's Canyon resort on Thursday afternoon the 3rd of April.

Hot, tired and in need of a change of clothes and a shower after our drive from Alice, we booked into the resort found our room and unloaded our bags. We then went off to search for the bar and a well earned beer. It was after all a matter of priorities, the shower and change of clothes would have to wait.

We found the bar but only after running the gauntlet of a million flies, by this time Pam had changed her mind and wanted to go back to the room. 'Well you can please yourself' I said gallantly, 'I'm going in for an ice cold beer'.

Common sense prevailed and we both entered the bar.

The bar was full; obviously every one had just driven down from Alice! Pam sat at the only table available whilst i went to the bar.

When I returned from the bar with our beers Pam had struck up a conversation with a couple sat at the same table.

After a couple of quaffs of beer, to lubricate the throat, I joined in with the conversation.

The guys name was Ted he and his companion were touring the outback like we were. He told us that he lived on a sheep station which had been featured in the March edition of the Australian Geographic magazine.

He told us a little about the article, which was about the drought in the outback, and how it was affecting his station. Then out of the blue he brought up the subject of his best pal who had been involved in an air crash during the Second World War on a flight from Port Moresby to Townsville.

Pam's ears pricked up, because her father had been a pilot on such an ill fated flight. 

After a few more questions and answers there was little doubt left that the two flights were one and the same!

To recap once more, firstly our trip to Oz was not planned, secondly we chose the Red Centre, next we were at King's Canyon on the right day, fourthly my insistence to enter the bar and last but not least the only free seat in the bar was that opposite to Ted!

Before we left the bar Ted gave us the names of a couple of other people who were also on the flight with his pal.

As soon as we got back to Sydney, Pam was on the phone to the U.K. to get the names on the passenger list which was amongst the memorabilia which her dad had left.

When the names, which Ted had given us, were crossed referenced to the list and confirmed, there was an electrified silence in the room. Now there really was no doubt, but at this moment we could not see a way of making any further progress. We would pick up the pieces when we got back to the U.K.

A couple of days later we bought a copy of the Australian Geographic magazine, we wanted to read the article which Ted had told us about which related to the drought in the outback.

We got home and I began to flick through the magazine and I found Ted's article, but of more relevance was an article about a guy called Harry and a guy called Alf.

The names at this point were of no significance, but at the top of the article was a map of the area between Port Moresby and Townsville.

Harry had been the radio officer on a Dakota bound from Port Moresby to Townsville, two hours into the flight the plane developed engine trouble. First the starboard engine failed then the port one, luckily as Harry put it, they were at ten thousand feet, so Harry had time to send off an S.O.S. message before the plane ditched into the sea.

The S.O.S. message was picked up by Alf.

From the date of the incident until about four years ago, Alf never knew the fate of the crew and passengers of the ill fated flight.

That was the gist of the article, and yet another coincidence was that Harry and Alf had been living in the same retirement village just to the north of Sydney for six months before they became known to each other.

We read the article twice! The pilot of the plane had been her father.

It was late on the Friday evening when I rang the retirement village to speak to Harry, and I do apologise to the lady whose sleep I so thoughtlessly interrupted, but time was of the essence. In two days time we would be returning to the U.K.

The lady sleepily took the message and assured us that she would pass the message onto Harry, first thing in the morning.

Saturday morning we were all sat around waiting for the phone to ring. On the second ring it was Harry, and yes he would be delighted to meet us.

Jon, our son, dropped us off at Harry's at around 2.00p.m. And we spent a most enlightening afternoon with him and his family. He was able to answer all of Pam's questions and fill in a lot more detail relating to the incident and also of the time that they spent together during the war years.

When Harry related the story his memory never faulted but on a couple of occasions I detected a watery look in his eyes.

He told us that he had visited Sheffield on a couple of occasions looking for 'Frank', but unbeknown to him until today Frank or Les as he was known to his family had died prematurely in 1967 at the age of 49.

Harry's recall of the incident was amazing, or was it? Not many of us go through such a situation and live to tell the story, so for any that do, I would suspect that the memory was indelibly etched in the little grey cells.

Harry's matter of fact attitude to the incident summed up in my mind the attitude, which so many veterans showed when they talked about the war years.

Harry and Frank had been flying together for about two years and had become close friends, flying on a various range of missions.

When they were transferred to Oz, they encountered a whole new ball game.

As Harry told us, in the U.K. the ground staff tended the aircraft, 'Down here we were our own ground staff'.

Harry's reasoning for the crash was, water in the fuel tanks. The fuel was kept in 50-gallon drums and hand pumped into the plane's tanks. The heat of the day would expand the fuel and gasses would escape, when the fuel cooled down it would contract and a slight space would build up within the drum where condensation would form, and as a result water would get into the drum.

After a period of several months the water content in the plane's tanks gradually built up, 'And as we all know engines do not run on water'.

The Australian pilots were all aware of this situation and regularly drained the water off via a tap in the fuel tanks of the aircraft.

Nobody thought to tell the 'New boys'. 

Frank Carnell brought the plane down 'safely' with only one minor injury amongst the crew and passengers, in a heavy sea.

Once on the water everyone managed to scramble out of the plane, some were in the water some were sat on top of the plane. The plane took four and a half minutes to sink, during which time two rubber dinghies were floated together with some wooden packing cases left over from a previous flight.

The lifesaving equipment was totally inadequate for the number of people involved.

Due to Alf's expertise within two hours of going down a Shackleton (actually a Short Sunderland) had taken off in search. Due to the heavy seas it could only drop extra rubber dinghies.

When I asked Harry 'Were there any sharks in the area?' his phlegmatic answer was 'We only saw them when we were all in the dinghies!'

Eventually after seventeen hours in the water everyone was rescued by boat.

Now back to coincidence, the Shackleton (Short Sunderland) that had taken off from Port Moresby ought not to have been there in the first place, it had previously been diverted, and the day after it had dropped the lifesaving equipment, its own engines packed up!

As Harry put it 'We would still have been there'.

It was a pleasure for Pam and I to have met Harry and Alf, and as for Frank's part in all of this he was awarded the Air Force Cross, and that was not coincidence.



I'd like to thank Pam Priest, the daughter of the pilot of this aircraft. 

I'd also like to thank Norman Weeding for his assistance with this home page.



Courier Mail, 24 August 2005
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This page first produced 13 July 2000

This page last updated 02 February 2020