Former Army pilot Jim Miles has discovered several underwater planes and ships in his time, but locating the final resting place of the WWII bomber A72-80 was different.
The plane is submerged in muddy waters in one of the most remote parts of Kimberley Beach where crocodiles are king and strong tides rattle.
But the challenges didn’t deter Mr Miles, who said he had been waiting 10 years to return to the wrecked site after his first expedition in 2009.
“I really wanted to get some good video footage [this time]’ said Mr Miles.
The video he took during his latest campaign in May is the first public glimpse of a decaying B24 bomber since it crashed.
Mr Miles said it was still an almost “spiritual” moment to descend to the foggy depths and see the fallen plane with its tyres.
A72-80 . the gap of
Twelve airmen aboard the A72-80 died when it crashed near Truscott Airfield, a top secret base for a Royal Australian Air Force mission during World War II.
The B-24 Liberator took off to bomb parts of Indonesia on March 23, 1945, when it crashed a few kilometers from the runway.
Only three bodies were recovered from the plane.
The rescue operation was hampered by the same threats Mr Miles faced: crocodiles, tides and sharks.
An Air Force Court of Inquiry was established in the days following the accident to investigate what had happened, but was unable to determine why the A72-80 fell down.
One document investigators referenced was a photograph taken on the day of the trench, which showed black smoke rising ominously from the water near Truscott.
The same photo was given to Mr Miles by archaeologist Silvano Jung after the couple collaborated on another mission to find the WWII steamer SS Florence D.
“Dr Silvano Jung sat me down for a coffee in Darwin … and a black and white picture of the wreckage burning in the ocean flopped in front of me,” said Mr Miles.
Using photos and some dive gear, Mr Miles found the A72-80 and confirmed the wreckage by identifying a square piece of metal behind the aircraft’s engine.
“Beautifully on the rubble, there’s this little square rectangle of metal that’s exactly the same as any picture,” said Mr Miles.
Leather briefcase reveals last-minute
For David Hursthouse, whose father John Hursthouse was on the plane when it crashed, the moments captured in the photo defined the rest of his life.
Now in his 70s, Mr Hursthouse was only six months old when his father died.
He said that his mother never actually spoke to him about what had happened.
“You know, as you get older, you start to think back,” he said.
“And because I had no father to follow, I became a little [of a] gypsy
“I missed him, or I missed a strong lead … like a father.”
By the time his mother died in 2002, he found a leather briefcase containing letters and documents about the accident.
He started solving the mystery of the accident.
He said that a wire in the suitcase made him wonder how his mother might have taken the news and could explain why she never talked about it.
“This [the telegram] Basically, the body in front was spotted on a distant beach,” he said.
“But when the Land Party arrived, they found that there was a shirt named JW Hursthouse and there was evidence that the body had been thrown into the sea by a crocodile.”
After reading the telegram, Mr Hursthouse said he wanted to go to Truscott Airbase and “shoot an alligator for revenge”.
That didn’t happen, but Mr. Hursthouse eventually visited the remote airstrip, where he scattered a portion of his mother’s ashes.
“Mother’s atoms and my father’s atoms are getting there somewhere,” he said.
Airforce scuffle with missing soldiers
Grant Kelly, leader of the Royal Australian Air Force Historic Unrecovered War Casualty Unit, said the Air Force was aware of the location of the wreckage.
But to recover aircraft such as the A72-80 lost during WWII, the Air Force would essentially need to conduct an archaeological dig underwater.
“This is an incredible amount of resources and depending on the site there could be an incredible amount of risk as well,” Group Captain Kelly said.
He said that over 3,000 airmen from WWII had no known graves and about 1,500 aircraft are still believed to be missing.
“Like I said, we have thousands of planes crashing,” said Mr. Kelly.
“We believe that the best way that individual memorials can be created is to use history associations, squadrons or aircraft associations or RSLs, or families who can care for these memorials, and get involved with their dedication. “
Memorial at Truscott Airbase
A memorial already exists for those aboard the A72-80 at the Adelaide River War Cemetery.
But Mr Hursthouse said Truscott had memorials to the other crashed planes, but not the A72-80.
He realized that his father’s plane had been “forgotten”.
“Even now, as I say there isn’t even a grave to go to, as far as it goes you just end up with this psychologically empty bit in your life,” said Mr. Hursthouse.
He said he expected a plaque for the A72-80 to be placed at the airfield that now serves as a base serving offshore resource facilities in the Timor Sea.
He said he would be happy to help and it just so happened that he was working there flying a helicopter.
He said he had the perfect place.
“Only 1 km away from the wreck site is a piece of land that looks out over the bay, Vansittart Bay, which is ideally placed to commemorate the wreck and those lost in it,” he said. .
“I can walk through the bush there and with a backpack of concrete and use some local stone to put a nice plaque in the memorial of those people for the family.”