|Pilot 1st Lt Vern J. Gidcumb, 317th TCG, 46th TCS (KIA) IL
Passenger Pfc Jerome Abraham,34067460 49th FG, HQ (KIA) FL
Crew List crew and passengers list (40 KIA)
Passenger Sgt Robert Foye (survived) Witchita Falls, TX
Crashed June 14, 1943
Built by Boeing at Seattle during 1941. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group based at March Field.
During October 1941, this B-17 was flown from Hickam Field bound for the Philippines, piloted by 1st Lt. Alvin H. Mueller. The flight across the Pacific Ocean with stops at Midway Airfield, Wake Airfield, 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby and Batchelor Field near Darwin then onward to the Philippines.
On December 25, 1941 one of three B-17s took off at 4:30am from Del Monte Airfield piloted by Lt. Mueller armed with 300 lbs bombs on a bombing mission against Davao. During take off, B-17D 40-3079 piloted by Lt. Smith blew a tire on take off and aborted the mission. This bomber along with B-17D 40-3062 proceeded to the target together. Over the target, ten enemy fighters were observed taking off from Davao Airfield to intercept them. Both B-17s climbed to 28,000' in hopes of climbing above their effective altitude, but were intercepted by the fighters. The other B-17 was hit in the engine, causing it to slow down and this B-17 also slowed to maintain formation and provide mutual fire support. Next, this B-17 was hit by machine gun and cannon fire. Aboard, two men in the radio room and the right waist gunner were wounded before the fighters broke off their attack. The B-17s descended to wave top height and successfully landed at Batchelor Field near Darwin. On the ground, more than 100 holes were noted on this bomber.
During late December 1942, this B-17 was ordered to fly to Australia to evacuate twenty-eight American personnel from the Philippines to Australia. Took off from Del Monte Airfield on a flight to Batchelor Field near Darwin. Next, flown to Laverton Airfield near Melbourne for repairs.
On December 24, 1942 returning from a bombing mission, this B-17 dove from 20,000' to 12,000' when the bomber pulled out of the dive, the wing flexed causing permanent structural damage but returned to Australia safely.
After the dive, the bomber's wingtips were a foot higher than normal, according to crew chief Del Sparrow. Repairs were attempted, but instead the B-17 was reassigned to the 317 Troop Carrier Group, 46th Troop Carrier Squadron. All armament and flooring were removed and the transport was stationed at Mackay Airfield.
As a transport, this aircraft was nicknamed "Miss E.M.F." (Every Morning Fixing) with Australian call sign VH-CBA. Along with an LB-30 also converted to a transport, this B-17 flew Allied servicemen and supplies from rest & recouperation in Australia via Mackay Airfield back to 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby (a 4.5 hour flight) and vice-versa.
These flights were described by a number of people including Teddy Hanks and Robert Foye both of Witchita Falls, Texas and Del Sparrow of Sonoma, California, as packing the troops in the B-17C like sardines in a can. When the aircraft took off the passenger had to try and inch forward so that the B-17 was not tail heavy during takeoff. Passengers did not mind the inconvenience of sitting on the floor without seat belts, because landing meant the start of R&R.
The sole survivor, Sgt Robert Foye of Witchita Falls, TX, had flipped a coin with Sgt Del Sparrow, of Sonoma, CA to be a crew member on this flight.
The verbal account of the crash, and eyewitnesses statements were recorded in the diary of Captain Cutler, the Red Cross commander in Mackay who keep a manifest of the aircraft and the accident. His son, Robert Cutler has his father's diary and wrote the book "Mackay's Flying Fortress: Remembering Australia's Worst Aviation Disaster in World War Two".
At the time of the accident wartime security in Australia meant that everything about the accident was classified. The seriousness of the accident and bad publicity that might result if disclosed saw that nothing was released about the crash.
A memorial to the crew was built near the crash site outside Mackay, due to the efforts of the Mackay RSL and Robert Cutler. The memorial flies the American and Australian flag over the site. On special occasions, twenty state flags that represent the states of those who died are also flown.
The Australian police report was declassified and accessed by the Mackay RSL during the early 1990 but the USAAF/USAF classified report has never been located. Australian Colin Benson, RSL historian researched the names and burials of the forty killed in the crash over eight years with the help of Teddy Hanks in the U. S. searching and digging for a number of years to get all the names. Still, they are actively seeking all the U. S. Army documents related to this crash.