The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) conducted a memorial service yesterday for eleven crew members lost in waters south of Cairns on 28 February 1943 in RAAF Catalina A24-25. Family members are accompanying senior Air Force personnel to the wreckage site today for a private memorial service.
The service, held at the Catalina Memorial on the Esplanade, was attended by family members of the crew and senior Air Force personnel.
The wreckage was first discovered 56 kilometres south of Cairns in 35 metres of water by local Cairns diver Mr Kevin Coombs in 2013.
Commander, Surveillance and Response Group, Air Commodore Craig Heap CSC, praised the work of all those involved in locating and confirming the identity of the aircraft following its discovery.
“Unfortunately our history is scattered with stories of Australia’s servicemen who went missing in action during World War Two,” Air Commodore Heap said.
“The discovery of the Number 11 Squadron Catalina is important for Air Force and our ongoing commitment to account for our missing personnel from past conflicts; currently 3124 members from the Second World War have no known grave. 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.”
Catalina aircraft stationed at Cairns were used from late 1942 by Number 11 Squadron to fly long-range missions against Japanese shipping and submarines. On 28 February 1943, Catalina A24-25 and its 11 crew were engaged on a 17 hour mission to provide anti-submarine cover to a convoy heading for Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea. A Court of Inquiry recorded that the aircraft crashed at sea whilst attempting to land due to exhaustion of its fuel supply. There were no witnesses and no sightings of wreckage or crew during subsequent searches.
The crew were from various locations around Australia, refer to the crew list below for further details.
Air Force intends to leave the aircraft where it lies as a mark of respect to the crew. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in consultation with Air Force has declared the site a Maritime Cultural Heritage Protection Special Management Area.
A flypast by an AP-3C Orion opened yesterdays commemoration. The Orion, like Catalina A24-25 is from Number 11 Squadron and fills a maritime patrol role.
Images will be available from the following site following the ceremony:
Video will be available on request from the media contact, Squadron Leader Paul Warner.
Air Force, Squadron Leader Paul Warner – (02) 6265 2903 or 0467 714 655
Defence Media – (02) 6127 1999
Crew List and locality:
|Wing Commander JOHN DANIELL of MOUNT LAWLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.|
|Squadron Leader ERIC BARKLEY of MALVERN, VICTORIA.|
|Flying Officer LEWIS DUNHAM of CLAREMONT, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.|
|Flying Officer STUART KING of GLEN IRIS, VICTORIA.|
|Sergeant ALLEN EATHER of ENMORE, NEW SOUTH WALES.|
|Sergeant ALEXANDER ELSBURY of EAST PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.|
|Sergeant NORMAN MOORE of BALWYN, VICTORIA.|
|Sergeant JOHN O’GRADY of EAST ST. KILDA, VICTORIA.|
|Sergeant KEITH WATSON of LISMORE, NEW SOUTH WALES.|
|Corporal DOUGLAS RUSSELL of FOOTSCRAY, VICTORIA.|
|Corporal JOHN STAIN of MOUNT LAWLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA.|