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Expedition to Document B-24D "Crosair" 41-23752
by Don Fetterly

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Rabaul in November 2002

Click For EnlargementUpside down A6M5 Zero

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Wing and side view

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B-24 "Crosair" engines

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B-24 "Crosair" wreckage

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B-24 "Crosair" tail section

November 2002. After a week's delay waiting for the boat and spare parts, the expedition proceeded down the coast where it discovered an A6M5 Model 52 Zero that went down off Mongo village in Jammer Bay. Unfortunately the fighter showed no signs of battle damage and the pilot had escaped.

The expedition continued along the south coast of New Britain, taking shelter as it went from unseasonable southeaster winds and heavy seas. We spent time at AWO mission (UWOL today) where a twin engine US bomber reportedly crashed into the sea and at Lindenhafen Mission a Jap seaplane base. Lindenhafen is within sight of Gasamata a major Jap fighter base. After making repairs at Lindenhafen a break in the weather allowed the crossing of 100 miles of open ocean to the primary objective of this expedition to B-24D "Crosair" 41-23752 that ditched off Kawa island January 1, 1943 with the loss of two of its crew.

The 319th, 90th Bomb Group borrowed "Crosair" from the 320th Bomb Squadron for a single plane raid on Vunakanu Air Drome near Rabaul. Crosair was lost returning from the mission. The Aircraft had departed Iron Range, Australia on the 31st December and staged through Port Moresby. There is one MIA on board SGT. Carol E. Domer the tail turret gunner.

After attacking Vunakanu Crosair turned south at 9,000 feet. Approximately one-hour later No. 4 engine quit and could not be restarted. Soon after No. 4 failed No. 3 engine also quit. Suddenly, from 9,000 feet Crosair was down to 500 feet over St George's Channel and barely maintaining air speed. Orders to bail out were rescinded. All guns, ammo, parachutes, etc were jettisoned, as Crosair headed to Milne Bay.

Dawn found Crosair with Kawa Island off to port when the No. 1 and 2 engines ran away and had to be shut down after the governors gave out. Major Kuhl put the plane into a steep glide, leveling out skimming the surface before impacting tail first.

The survivors got into two life rafts; landed on Kawa Island where the Aussie Army Spotters stationed there met them. From there they boarded a motor launch and headed south to rendezvous with a Sunderland flying boat at Goodenough Island, then flown to Milne Bay. On the way to Goodenough one of the severely wounded succumbed to his wounds. The surviving crew was later flown back to Iron Range.

Rod Pearce owner & captain of MV Barbarian II, the expeditions base of operations had first heard about Crosair while looking for another Aircraft, an Australian Beaufort Bomber A9-217 in the same area of the Trobriand Islands.

An Australian army spotter's cook "boi" told Rod a story of another plane that crashed and 10 to 12 people got out of the sinking wreck and with the locals helping them ashore on the tiny island of Kawa. He named the plane as a Liberator and after that Rod thought there was a good chance of finding it.

After finding Beaufort A9-217 and assisting the RAAF in recovering the MIA's on board, Rod made several attempts to find Crosair with the plane finally being located on January 12, 2002.

Crosair rests upside down on a very white sandy bottom in 100' of water. The entire bottom of the plane was torn out during the ditching. The tail section is nearly torn free attached to the fuselage by the roof. The ditching folded the tail section over onto the back of the plane. The control surfaces now face forwards. The wings are in perfect condition as well as the engines. Very little coral has formed on the entire plane; machine guns still protrude from the nose of the aircraft.

Four of the nine crewmembers that escaped are still alive. Video of Crosair and still photos of the expedition were sent to the surviving crew and family members.

The islanders sadly to say are not fairing well; we found them suffering from thirst and malnutrition. Their crops had failed after five months without rain. They were grateful for fish and 60 kilos of rice we presented as a gift. As we were preparing to leave a relief ship called on Kawa with sorely needed supplies.

Also, B-24D "Cowtowns Revenge" ditched 15 miles west of Kawa Island just off Islet Island. Survivors and rescuers have been interviewed, but that's another story.

 
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