COLLISION OF TWO P-38 LIGHTNINGS
NEAR PURGA, QLD
ON 4 DECEMBER 1942
P-38 Lightnings parked at Amberley airfield during WW2
At 10.50 am on 4 December 1942, a flight of four USAAF P-38 Lightnings from the 17th Fighter Squadron USAAF,piloted by Lts. Douglas, Morgan, O'Neill and Rowsey were performing combat manoeuvres in the Purga area in southern Queensland. Two of the P-38's collided while performing a crossover manoeuvre. Lt. Charles F. Rowsey flying P-38 #42-12646, "Synchronished Sal", was forced to exit his aircraft after it was seen to go into a left-handed spiral dive from 5,000 feet. He was tragically killed when his parachute became entangled around the tail boom of his P-38 and his aircraft plummeted into Coolamon Creek near Flinders Peak near Peaks Crossing. The other P-38, #42-12642, piloted by Lt. John G. O'Neill, was able to trim his P-38 and limp back to nearby Amberley airfield (20 miles away) on one engine to make an emergency landing.
George Dudek told me that the gun of one aircraft accidentally fired when they collided. Apparently Australian pilots had a procedure of inverting a P-38 before they ejected, to avoid becoming entangled in the twin boom tail of the P-38.
Lt. Rowsey was buried on 7 December 1942 at the US Military Cemetery at Ipswich. The remains of the crashed P-38 remained generally undisturbed for about 40 years. In mid 1999, aircraft restoration volunteer at Amberley, Keith Fletcher, tracked down the site of the crash after hearing lots of local yarns about the crash. After much research, Keith eventually found an eighty year old gentleman who claimed to know the location of the crash site. He had previously visited the wreck site in Coolamon Creek and gave Keith the name of the relevant property owner.
Keith discovered from the very reluctant property owner that the main wreckage had been removed about 20 years earlier, probably by a scrap dealer. Another group had approached the property owner more recently regarding the crash site. The property owner handed over the Identification plates for this aircraft to this group who had indicated they they would use the plates to create a memorial to Lt. Rowsey. At this stage, I am unaware of any memorial for Lt. Rowsey.
The property owner was initially reluctant to allow Keith and his group from Amberley on to the crash site out of respect for the dead pilot. After receiving permission from the property owner, the group of volunteers from Amberley, located the aluminium inlet manifold of the Allison V1710 engine and 75 metres away, they found a 4 metre section of the port wing. The wing was full of sand and badly deteriorated. A nearby large dead tree had its top broken off about 10 metres above ground level.
The volunteers dug away the mud and sand from the engine and lifted it out of the creek bed and trucked it back to RAAF Amberley where it was cleaned and placed on display.
Photo:- Peter Moller
The recovered Allison V1710 12 Cylinder engine at Amberley Museum in July 2008
The Amberley volunteer group would like to track down the missing Identification plates to allow a memorial to be erected to Lt. Rowsey at the crash site.
Colin Drain's brother-in-law recalls seeing a crash which he thought had occurred in about 1944-45. There were some P-38's in the area operating from Amberley airfield. His parents were Salvation Army officers stationed at the Purga Aboriginal Mission. He spent a fair amount of his spare time watching aircraft operating in the Amberley area - not far from Purga in a straight line. The Lightnings would climb almost vertically to a high altitude, roll over at the top into a steep dive before regaining level flight. On this occasion he watched as the P-38 performed his manoeuvre, dived vertically and didn't recover (G-forces??). From Purga he heard the the crash and saw the plume of smoke but saw no parachutes. Was this the crash in which Lt. Rowsey was killed?
I'd like to thank Keith Fletcher, Don Neibling, Tony Porter, George Dudek, Peter Moller and Colin Drain for their assistance with this home page.
"Strike Publications" Vol 14 No. 5 Thursday 14 March, 2002
What Squadron were the P-38's from?
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 23 September 2000
This page last updated 31 August 2015