Charles Page

Goodenough Island Explorations

Click For EnlargementMy main reason for visiting Goodenough Island in November 2004 was to research a forthcoming book on Wing Commander Charles Learmonth DFC and Bar. Charles Learmonth was the C.O of No.22 Squadron (Bostons) based at Vivigani, Goodenough Island. He was later appointed C.O. of No.14 Squadron at Pearce but was killed on 6th January 1944, when his Beaufort crashed into the sea off Perth. However, it was also suggested to me, by diveboat operator Rod Pearce, that I take the opportunity to search for a 100 squadron Beaufort, that crashed south-east of Vivigani Airstrip.

Milne Bay
Click For EnlargementAs it happened, my arrival at Alotau coincided with a schedule change, and the ferry had already sailed the day before. I stayed the next two days at the Alotau International Hotel, which provides excellent accommodation, meals and facilities. The lush and scenic Milne Bay area is well worth exploring, and the WWII sites can be easily seen in a day.

Click For EnlargementWith the aid of the Milne Bay Tourist Office, I found a small wooden cargo boat, MV Yayata. The crew looked like pirates, but turned out to be friendly companions, as were the twenty or so passengers. The boat was surprisingly seaworthy and the voyage took eighteen hours, calling in at various settlements and missions on Normanby Is. and Fergusson Is. On the boat, I was lucky to meet Francis Maika, who claimed to know the location of a crashed plane on Goodenough Island. He recalled that as a boy, he used to fish off the wing. Apparently no one outside the island had visited the crash site since 1944.

Goodenough Island
Click For EnlargementGetting to Goodenough Island can be something of an adventure. There are connections on Air Niugini or Airlines PNG from Port Moresby to Milne Bay. After that it takes some planning, as there is only the weekly ferry, Attolls Queen, and schedules are subject to change. This modern comfortable ferryboat takes about seven hours to reach Goodenough Is.

Click For EnlargementWe eventually tied up at the tiny settlement of Bolubolu, the administrative centre for Goodenough Is. The boat was met by most of the island’s population, and I was escorted up the main footpath to the guest house, where a meal of taro, yam and rice was later provided. The generator runs from 6pm to 10pm, after which, it’s into the mosquito net.

Click For EnlargementGoodenough Island is only 30 kilometers across, but extremely mountainous, with peaks up to 8,000 feet. I was told it takes two days to climb up to the highest peak. The climate is hot and humid most of the time and it is advisable to carry bottled water. The locals are friendly and hospitable, and speak excellent English, but little or no Pidgin.

Click For EnlargementThere is hardly any crime on the island, and only one policeman. Vehicles are virtually non-existent, apart from a battered old ute, which is used mainly for transport to the airfield. Communications are difficult, as mail is irregular, and there are only two phones on the island, one for the police and one for the District Office, which is not attended on a regular basis. There are two small stores at Bolubolu.

Beaufort Wreckage Discovery
Click For EnlargementThe day after arrival, Francis and I hired a dinghy, and with Johnny Biligote at the helm, motored two miles up the coast to a small inlet and creek. This led us into a mangrove swamp, and after squelching through thick glutinous mud for about two hundred meters, we found the aircraft wreckage. Most of it was submerged in the mud except for a propeller blade, part of a wing centre section, and several small shreds of debris. There were no identifying marks on any of the wreckage, and some strenuous digging would be required to find any.

Click For EnlargementNevertheless, the centre wing section appears to be from a Beaufort aircraft. If this is the case, it could be No.100 Squadron Beaufort A9-480, which crashed two miles south-east of Vivigani airstrip on 5th March 1944. The crew consisted of F/O A.P. Potts (pilot), F/O Easton (WAG), F/Sgt, Wiblin (Nav), and F/Sgt. Hammersley (WAG). Cinema operator Cpl. Duggan was on board as a supernumerary. All five personnel were killed. They were buried in the American Cemetery on Goodenough Is. but were later re-interred in Bomana War cemetery, Port Moresby.

Click For EnlargementThe cause of the accident was listed as unknown, but the Court of Enquiry considered that the pilot may have lost orientation after a night take-off into haze. However, the pilot was well experienced for a wartime pilot, with 1655 hours flying time. Also the propeller blade condition suggests that the engine was not under power at impact.

More Crash Sites
Click For EnlargementThe locals suggested a visit to another site, near the airfield. This site was approached through a lightly treed area between the airstrip and the coast, and involved a tricky log crossing, and a track leading past the rare Amorphophallus (corpse flower), with its malodorous stench. At least three derelict Beauforts were seen, and in one case, a tree had grown up through the wreckage. These aircraft were abandoned, rather than crashed, and have since been visited by several aircraft enthusiasts.

Vivigani airstrip
Click For EnlargementWe also inspected the Vivigani airstrip, situated on the lush green coastal plain. The 6,000 feet bitumen runway is still in use, and only slightly weed strewn. The many aircraft revetments are clearly visible, especially from the air. Various aircraft components can still be found scattered around. Towards the mountains, a fast running creek gushes over a waterfall and into a rock pool, which was used by the WWII crews for recreation and washing.

Click For EnlargementOn the drive back to Bolubolu, we stopped at the school, which for years used an aircraft wing as its sign. This wing is now in the playground, and the undersurface appears similar to the outer wing panel of the Boston. There was a strange faded yellow chevron marking, but this could have been painted on by the school.

Click For EnlargementOn my last day at Goodenough, the locals drove me out to Vivigani airfield to await the Airlines PNG Twin Otter. This weekly flight is invariably delayed due to weather or serviceability, and this day the plane was four hours late. The airfield has virtually no facilities, and the time was spent further exploring the area. Then with no warning, the Twin Otter swept in low from the north and we were soon on our way to an ice cold beer in Alotau.


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