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Cape York Aircraft Wreck Discovery
In late February 2007, Australian diver Ben Cropp reported the discovery of the wreckage of a World War II aircraft.

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Photo by Ben Cropp

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Photos via Channel 7

Undercarriage Comparison

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C-47 Landing Gear
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B-17 Landing Gear

Wing Comparison

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C-47 Wing / Fuselage

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B-17 Wing

This aircraft was reported as B-17F "Pluto" 41-24384 in initial news articles. Cropp commented: "While I don't have 100 per cent (surety), I have 99 per cent." This particular B-17 went missing on its flight and to this day remains an unsolved MIA (Missing In Action) case. Twelve were aboard the bomber, including Brigadier General Howard Ramey. No trace of the bomber or the crew has ever been found.

News Articles & Website Links
Diver discovers mystery warplane wreck (December 22, 2006)
Find Solves WWII Mystery, Says Filmmaker (February 22, 2007)
Channel 7 News Exclusive (March 13, 2007)
Flightpath Magazine "Claimed discovery of General Ramey B-17 "Pluto" by Michael Claringbould
Oz@War "Crash of B-17 Flying Fortress" by Peter Dunn
B-17 "Pluto" (PWD Forum Thread)

Ben Cropp adds:
"Beyond doubt it is a B17 we found, very likely General Ramey's.It has 4 engines, round cowling, 9 cylinders, and the landing gear and tyre folded up inside the back of the inside engine. Moores Marauders of USA have offered their services free of charge for further investigation to find the fuselage and determine whether it is Ramey's Pluto which I think it is. Keep in touch with Dean as we go back there next Nov, maybe to complete the film for Discovery Channel.

The 2 engines were on one wing. Starboard wing lying E to W heading south. Position 40 miles SE of Horn Island. [ View on Google Earth ].

We also consulted with collaborator Brian Bennett, who worked for JPAC identifying aircraft crashes in Papua New Guinea, and has himself visited hundreds of WWII aircraft crash sites during his decades living and working in the Pacific. We asked him to review the dive footage that aired on the Channel 7 News footage of the wreck discovery."

Brian Bennett adds:
"I am now fairly certain that aircraft described as B17 is not so. The structure in one photo shows a heavy cast brace is not consistent with any similar structure on a B-17 or a B-24 for that matter. If there are four engines at the site then it is a different matter but still NOT from a B-17. Also on the B17F the engines were fitted with paddle type propeller blades as against narrow blades on the B17E. My best punt at the moment is that the cast item with circular holes is part of the brace/support frame for the lowering/retract hydraulic ram on main gear for a C-47. Two photos of an example on a C-47 wreckage on a reef down past Salamaua. There are no two aircraft types with the same undercarriage. Attached are drawings of various landing gear for B-17, B-24, C-47 and B-25.

The "paddle type" blade is quite distinctive feature of the B-17F and can't be mistaken as a "narrow" type blade. Ben mentions that both engines are together on ONE wing however if the site is a C-47 and the fuselage is missing or torn off and if a wing outer panel had been broken off on one side THEN the remains on the sea floor would nearly be about the size of a B17 wing on one side.

The statement that the REST of the wing is like the cast item doesn't follow for a B17 as the wings are of a distinct cantilever beam construction and quite massive. I have been able to crawl all over several quite intact but broken up B-17 crash sites and the type of casting in that photo provided is not part of a B-17. I find it unlikely that all that there is to photograph at this particular underwater site is a part of a nacelle with a wheel inside and an engine. I would have thought that there would have been some quite substantial wreckage."

Landing gear comparison: C-47 Dakota versus B-17 Flying Fortress.
Wing comparison: C-47 Dakota versus B-17 Flying Fortress

Michael Claringbould adds:
"Brian Bennett's statement about the undercarriage support strut are sound. After cross-checking the specifications of the strut with a fellow historian and aircraft engineer, I can confirm Brian's observant comment that the gear is that of a Douglas C-47 (DC-3) derivative. The kicker however, is that the radial engine looks like it only has a single bank of 7 cylinders, whereas most C-47s had two banks (14 cylinders), powered as they were with R-1830 engines. If this is the case, the answer lies behind the fact that some C-47 derivatives had R-1820 engines, which had a single bank of cylinders. The most common of these derivatives, in use with the RAAF and US Fifth Air Force in WW2 was the C-49, one of which (C-49 41-7694) went missing on 24 April 1943. If the engine does have 14 cylinders, then the aircraft is a C-47 (or similar derivative such as a C-53). There are about five USAAF C-47s missing in this area. This, of course, assumes that the aircraft is a war-time wreck and not post-war (I have no expertise in this area). It also assumes it is not a Dutch or RAAF C-47 or DC-3.
1. The wreck is definitely NOT a B-17
2. The wreck is a C-47 derivative. If the engine is an R-1820 (7 cylinders), it is most likely a C-49. If the engine is an R-1830 with 14 cylinders it is probably a C-47.
3. There is no proof the wreck is a war-time loss, although this is likely.
4. Without a constructor's number or serial number, the identity will remain illusive. There are simply too many contenders."

Daniel Leahy adds:
"If this wreck is a C-47, here are details from the ADF Serials for possible RAAF/ex-RAAF C-47s lost in the sea off Queensland. Based on locality possibilities include: C-47 A65-6 ditched into sea. Also, C-47 A65-3 off Turtle Head could be a possibility. Claringbould suggested C-49 "Calamity Mary Jane" 41-7694 but further details are needed on that loss."

Justin Taylan adds:
"Facts about the loss of B-17F "Pluto" 41-24384 from its MACR (Missing AIr Crew Report 15499):
1. Aside from an initial radio check (20 minutes out) , nothing was heard from the B-17. The flight route was supposed to take approximately 7 hours. The bomber had an estimated 12 hours of fuel. Skies were reported as clear in the flight areas. Those are the only known facts of the case.

2. Since the entire flight was in Allied area, and the war had moved northward to the north side of New Guinea... a radio check-in would be likely at each leg. If they experienced anything wrong, like failures, distress signal, etc, they would send a radio signal.

3. The MACR, prepared after the crash, and reviewed for several years later, states: "Most probably [lost] over Gulf of Papua or Coral Sea" and that there were no eyewitnesses to the crash, despite extensive searches and patrols at the time of the loss and afterwards.

4. The B-17F "Pluto" was a combat aircraft, but according to the MACR "The B-17 they were in was an excellent ship in excellent condition. The pilot and crew were as fine and experienced a crew as you would find anywhere in the world." This alone is not conclusive, as brand new planes exploded in some cases, and war weary ones flew until the end of the war, and both novice and expert crews suffered accidents and losses.

SPECULATION FROM THE FACTS
1. Since no emergency calls were made or heard, it is possible the bomber suffered some accident or catastrophic failure sometime after 20 minutes, and likely before 60 minutes into the flight.

2. If they had some problem that was repairable, they likely would have returned to Port Moresby (the nearest base) or proceed to make an emergency landing at another field.

3. Likely, the bomber crashed sometime between 20-60 minutes into the flight, likely placing it in the Gulf of Papua. Probably with some catastrophic failure that prevented them from making a radio call, and saw the death of some or all of the crew instantly or quickly in the crash.

4. The possibility of Japanese fighter action in that area? True, the japanese did a few strikes on Merauke and Horn Island on the bomber's flight path, but not on that day that I am aware of. In japanese records intercepting a B-17 would be noted, as well as any damage or claim about shooting.

5. The RAAF and Australian units were based at both Merauke and Horn Island, and could have observed or noted any japanese attacks that day, or air combat. Also there were Army units based there who could potentially observe crashes or aerial action. Also, friendly locals along the southern coast of New Guinea assisted other downed aviators.

In my opinion, the photos and video taken by Cropp certainly show an aircraft wreck. It is unclear of its exact identity, but the landing gear and engines show features of a C-47 Dakota or derivative (DC-3, C-49 or other). More evidence would be required to make an exact identity."

Verification
Until a serial number or engine number is found on the wreckage, and documented with photos in situ and cleaned, no identification is 100% accurate. We await any new photos on this wreck. Further complicating the claim that this wreck is "Pluto", the MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) related to this bomber, 15499 does not list the engine or weapon serial numbers. This means, in order to verify this wreck as Ramey's bomber, the USAAF serial number must be located: 41-24384. This number was stenciled onto engine cowls and appeared through the bomber on dataplates.

Many aircraft were lost in the Cape York area, including other B-17s, and other types of aircraft. We look forward to seeing a positively identification of this new aircraft wreck. For now, more photographic proof or evidence is required.

References
Thanks to Benn Cropp, Brian Bennett, Michael Claringbould, Daniel Leahy and Peter Dunn for additional information and links.

 

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Last Updated
November 1, 2012

 

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