The RAAF has confirmed that aircraft wreckage found in waters south of Cairns is that of RAAF No. 11 Squadron Catalina A24-25, that crashed on February 28, 1943, killing all 11 personnel on board.
CAF AIRMSHL Leo Davies praised the work of all those involved in locating and confirming the identity of the aircraft.
“Unfortunately our history is scattered with stories of Australia’s servicemen who went missing in action during WWII,” AIRMSHL Davies said:
“The discovery of this 11SQN Catalina is important for Air Force and our ongoing commitment to account for our missing personnel from past conflicts – currently 3124 from WWII and 18 from Korea.
“It is even more important for the families to finally have some closure in knowing the resting place of the
aircraft and their loved ones after such a long time.”
The wreckage was first discovered 56km south of Cairns in 35m of water by Cairns diver Kevin Coombs in 2013.
However, weather and planning challenges delayed the final dives to complete the investigation.
In August, Air Force investigators, along with a representative of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and a Navy Clearance Dive Team from HMAS Cairns, travelled to the site to gather additional evidence in order to confirm that the aircraft was A24-25.
Catalina aircraft stationed at Cairns were used from late 1942 by 11SQN to fly long-range missions against Japanese shipping and submarines.
On February 28, 1943, Catalina A24-25 and its 11 aircrew were engaged on a 17-hour mission to provide anti-submarine cover to a convoy heading for Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea.
The final radio call stating that the aircraft was force landing was picked up by Townsville.
The Court of Inquiry recorded that the aircraft crashed at sea while attempting to land due to exhaustion of its fuel supply.
There were no witnesses and no sightings of wreckage or crew during subsequent searches.
Air Force intends to leave the aircraft where it lies as a mark of respect to the crew whose remains are likely to be entombed in the wreckage.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in consultation with Air Force has declared the site a Maritime Cultural Heritage Special Management Area.
Air Force intends to hold a memorial service and place a commemorative plaque in Cairns to honour the crew early next year, (possibly 28th February, 2016).
Any relatives of the crew who have not been contacted by Air Force, are encouraged to email the officer of Air Force Missing in Action Investigations at – RAAF.PA@defence.gov.au
The crew –
Wing Commander John William Daniell 140
Sergeant Keith Arnold Watson 22692
Sergeant John Daniel O’Grady 5778
Sergeant Alexander Eric John Elsbury 415378
Corporal Douglas Giffen Shaw Russell 13970
Corporal John Corbett Stain 2437
Lest We Forget.