CRASH OF AN A-24
IN A MUD FLAT NEAR GARBUTT AIRFIELD, TOWNSVILLE
ON 22 NOVEMBER 1943
Captain John D. Ewing (0433364), made a forced landing on a mud flat near Garbutt airfield in an A-24 (#41-15821) at about 3:15pm on 22 November 1943. Apparently the A-24 was the base commander's personal aircraft. John Ewing was from the Hq. & Hq. Sq. of the 4th Air Depot Group (he was later attached to the 320th Bomb Squadron of the 90th Bomb Group). He was testing the A-24 to qualify the plane for service. At least that was the official story.
In reality the Base Commander had asked Captain Ewing to take up two personnel for a flight around the area. Major E.P. Thomas, Flight Surgeon, 15th Headquarter & Hq. Squadron, 15th Air Depot Group, and Sgt. St. George of the Special Service Section were the two passengers. Since an A-24 will only hold 2 people, someone would have been sitting on someone else's lap. During the flight, the Special Services fellow kept egging Captain Ewing on to loop the plane even though there was a warning not to do so on the dashboard of the aircraft.
Although Captain Ewing was a very experienced test pilot, the special services guy eventually convinced him that there would be no repercussions if he looped the aircraft. He accepted the dare and when he looped the aircraft, the oil lines ruptured, covering the windshield. Captain Ewing could barely see through the windscreen. He had to put the aircraft down ASAP because he could not see and he was losing oil pressure rapidly. When he landed on the mud flat the wheels stuck in the mud and the plane flipped over. The cockpit immediately began filling up with the high octane airplane fuel. Captain Ewing had to dig himself out and then rescued his two passengers. They were extremely lucky to get out without setting off a spark that could have ignited the fuel and burned them up.
Captain Ewing received a cracked C-2 and C-3 vertebrae. Fortunately he suffered no permanent damage from the cracked vertebrae other than constant pain. Captain Ewing always carried a nickel plated semi-automatic .22 pistol with him in case they went down.
The two passengers, who knew the Base Commander, cleared the incident with the Commander, and that is how Captain Ewing was not penalised. Captain Ewing made up a Test Pilot's version of the incident (see below) to clear themselves, and it was signed and released. He wrote in his report that "No one was seriously injured."
Report on the crash by Captain John D. Ewing
Pictures of the crash site
He had taken off from APO 922 (Townsville) and "while flying at 2,000 feet the engine started to get rough, oil and white smoke began to come out of the cowling. The oil pressure went down to 20 pounds, and the engine started to sputter."
Captain Ewing "then increased the engine RPM from 1850 to 2200, and reduced the manifold pressure." He lowered the landing gear with the intention of landing at Garbutt airfield some 5 minutes way. He then opened the cowl flaps from half to full open position, in an attempt to keep the cylinder head temperature low. The engine cut out at 500 feet, so he then made a forced landing on a mud flat. The aircraft ended up flipping over on its back. Major E.P. Thomas, Flight Surgeon of the 15th HQ and HQ's Squadron of the 15th Air Depot Group along with Sergeant St. George of the Special Service Section were passengers on this flight. No one was seriously injured except for Major Ewing who cracked his neck and was in the hospital a day or so. He actually ended up with hair line fractures of the C2-C3. He was grounded from flying for a while.
This aircraft had earlier made a wheels up forced landing at Charters Towers on 8 June 1942.
Captain Ewing was assigned to the Hq. & Hq. Sq., 4th Air Dep Gp.
of the 320 Bomb Squadron, 90th Bomb Group
I'd like to thank Susan Wolfe, daughter of Captain John D. Ewing, for her assistance with the details on this crash.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
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© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 23 February 2001
This page last updated 02 February 2020