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  B-24D-85-CO "The Mirage" Serial Number 42-40675  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
403rd BS

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Click For Enlargement
Peter February 2016

Pilot  Captain Dorwin C. Wilson (injured, survived) Tripp County, SD
Navigator  1st Lt. Robert N. Fuleihan, 12037920 (injured, survived) East Orange, NJ
Radio  Sgt Charles A. Tippings, 19159845 (survived) OK
Asst Radio  Sgt Rudolph F. Chavez, 39236235 (injured, survived) NM

Ditched  October 12, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried overseas via Hawaii to Australia arriving June 18, 1943.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron. Nicknamed "The Mirage" with the nose art of a woman in a black dress reclining.

Wartime History
On October 12, 1943 took off from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 7:10am on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Inbound to the target, bad weather forced the bombers to turn back or bomb alternate targets on New Britain instead.

During the bomb run, this B-24's no. 3 engine lost power, likely due to anti-aircraft damage to the fuel lines and the engine was shut down. Despite efforts to transfer fuel, another engine failed and had to be shut down. Lagging behind the formation, several other B-24s attempted to escort the damaged bomber but it was flying too slow. Escorting fighters also escorted this B-24 before their fuel became low.

Unable to return to Port Moresby or Dobodura on the north coast of New Guinea, Wilson attempted to reach North Drome (Crash Strip) on Kiriwina Island but another engine lost power, leaving the bomber flying on only one engine at full power.

Instead, Wilson circled a small island surrounded by shallow water and sandy beaches and attempted to ditch nearby. Before ditching, radio operator Tippings reported their position to base and locked the Morse code key down to transmit their position and the crew took up crash positions.

This B-24 successfully ditched roughly forty miles west of Kiriwina in shallow water roughly atop a coral reef. The B-24 landed virtually intact with both wings and the top of the fuselage above the waterline.

During the crash, Wilson suffered minor injuries including cuts, bruises and cracked ribs. In the rear of the bomber, Fuleihan was sucked into the sea as the fuselage tore open and sustained seriously injuries including a broken left arm, back injuries and wounds to his right thigh. Chavez was also seriously injured.

Afterwards, the entire crew assembled on the top of the wings and deployed the life rafts and swam for shore towing the wounded crew in the rafts. Reaching the nearby island, the crew attempted to use their emergency radio and established a camp area.

Search
Two hours after the crash, a twin engined Australian aircraft, likely a Beaufighter from Kiriwina spotted the ditched bomber and the crew and flew low over their location to let them know they were spotted.

Rescue
The next day on October 13, 1943, the crew was spotted by a B-24 Liberator from the 403rd Bombardment Squadron while searching for B-24D 42-40934 that went Missing In Action (MIA) in the same general area. That same morning, another small aircraft circled them and guided a crash boat to their location. At 9:00am a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) crash boat from 73 Wing arrived and transported the crew to Kiriwina for medical treatment.

On October 14, 1943 a B-24 Liberator from the 403rd Bombardment Squadron transported the five uninjured crew from Kiriwina back to Port Moresby where they returned to duty. Fuleihan's injuries were more serious and he was transported to Milne Bay then to Australia for hospitalization before being sent back to the United States for further care and participated in a war bonds tour then was discharged during December 1944 due to the injuries he sustained.

Wreckage
This B-24 remains in shallow water off Kwaiyacuma Island, a small uninhabited island surrounded by coral reef and sand. Since the 1980s, the wreckage includes the four engines and their mounts with three bladed propeller attached. The propeller blades have bullet holes and strikes in the upper blade.

Rod Pearce adds:
"I first visited this wreckage in the 1980s and have been there several times during the 1990s and most recently in late January 2016. All that is left at the site are the engines and propellers. There are bullet holes in the propeller blades. The February 2016 photos I was given were taken by Peter who visited there in his yacht."

Memorials
Wilson passed away October 23, 2000 and is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, FL at unit 7.
Tippings passed away May 3, 1983 and is buried at Elsinore Valley Cemetery at Lake Elsinore, CA plot GW-120-10.
Fuleihan passed away August 5, 2003 at Cedarfield Retirement Home in Richmond, VA. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 5-OO row 14, site 1.
Chavez passed away July 15, 1978 and is buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery at plot 3, site 1377.

References
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-24D Liberator crew Lt. Wilson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Dorwin C. Wilson
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Charles A. Tippings

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Rudolph F. Chavez
NARA - World War II Army Enlistment Records - Robert N. Fuleihan
Princeton University November 19, 2003: Robert N. Fuleihan '46 Obituary
"Bob died at Cedarfield Retirement Home in Richmond, Va., Aug. 5, 2003. After high school in East Orange, N.J., he attended Upsala College before joining the Air Force. He was a 1st lieutenant/navigator when his plane was shot down in the South Pacific, earning him the Air Medal. He transferred to Princeton in 1945 and received his AB degree in 1946, after which he graduated from Harvard Business School. A career in insurance followed as general agent of New York Life in the Richmond area. In 1986 Bob helped found Fidelity Federal Savings Bank, serving as board chairman until his retirement in 1995. A music buff, Bob served on the boards of the Virginia Opera and the Richmond Symphony. He is survived by Ruth Bennett, whom he wed in 1949; their son, Robert; and two daughters, Carol Ann and Kathryn Joy. The class joins them in mourning a loyal Tiger. The Class of 1946"
FindAGrave - Dorwin C. Wilson (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Charles Arthur Tippings (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Robert Fuleihan (grave photo, obituary)
FindAGrave - Rudolph F Chavez (grave photo)
Ken’s Men Against The Empire page 240 (map), 290 (photo), 291 (photo)
Thanks to Larry Hickey, Edward Rogers and Rod Pearce for addtional information

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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