Crosair Down

The following was related to me by Mr. Rod Pearce of Lae, PNG, regarding the circumstances in finding the wreck of Crosair.
Gary Gray

Crosair, a B24D Liberator, Serial # 41-23752, found January 12th 2002.

"Crosair", a B24D of the American 5th Air Force and for this particular raid the 319th bomb Squadron. This aircraft, for this raid, was on loan from the 320th Squadron. Crosair was lost on January 1st 1943 returning from a raid on Rabaul. The aircraft had departed Iron Range, Australia on 31 December and staged through Port Moresby.

There is one MIA on board, Carol E. Doner the tail turret gunner. (rank unknown, but believed to be Sgt.) I first heard about this B24 while looking for another aircraft, an Australian Beauford Bomber, A9-217, in the same area of the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. An army spotter's cook, "boi", told me a story of another plane that crashed and 10 to 12 people got out of the sinking wreck with the locals helping them ashore on the tiny island of Kawa. He named the plane as a Liberator and after that I thought there was a good chance of finding it. Having found "Blackjack" a B17 Bomber, and another multi-engine plane, I new this could be a another great find. After finding A9-217 and recovering the MIA's on board, I made several attempts to find the B24 but with out success. The locals from Kawa told me the approx. position but as none of them saw it crash, it was very sketchy. Also, the report that I had written by John Perakos was a bit misleading. It stated it was in the North Western part of the island, and the locals stated it was in the South Eastern part between the Islands of Kawa and Mwatagina, a distance of two miles.

I had tried all the usual things that divers do to find wrecks, like putting divers into the water, echo sounders and sonar, however nothing seemed to work until now. This time I went to Kawa Island armed with 3 lovely girls from the near by Trobriand's, to act as interpreters and to use them as bait to lure the B24 to me. Now some things work and some things donít, but I now swear by this method of finding wrecks. I had been at the island for a day questioning the people again as to any additional information and not finding anything worthwhile, I decided to start the long boring process of searching. With the three girls scantily clad to draw the B24's attention, I set off from Kawa. I had a report from one of the crew members, John Perakos who stated the plane had ditched approx. 1/4 mile from Kawa, so decided I would start my search somewhere between a 1/4 and a 1/2 mile off shore. Searching is done by sailing parallel lines and recording what's underneath the vessel or out from the side of the vessel's track. My first run was on a course of 187 degree's for 1/2 a mile then turn to port and come back on a oppossive course of 007 degree's, then back on the next leg of the original course of 187 degree's, always moving slightly to port. It was on this leg that my attention was drawn to one of the girls, and all thoughts of a search vanished forever, except the damn alarm sounded on the "Underwater Aircraft Finding Machine" in the wheel house of my vessel, "Barbarian". A quick look at the "machine" and there on the screen was a huge school of fish above a solid object of some kind. Markings were taken and anchors dropped. Leaving the girls to fend for themselves and to look after the vessel, I prepared to dive. On entering the water I could see the bottom from the surface some 27 meters below me. I descended to a perfectly white, sandy bottom with water visibility at approx. 100 feet. Half way down the anchor line, schools of barracuda began to appear and I thought to my self "This looks promising". Then the Jacks and other schooling fish appeared as I got closer.

As I followed the anchor line in the hopeful direction of the object, a dark shape started to emerge from amongst all the marine life. Still hazy and still not in clear focus because of the marine life, a rather tall object rising above the sand approx. 3-4 meters started to appear. Wishing to Christ there was not so much fish life so I could see more clearly, and then, my wish was granted , something had spooked the school of fish and they momentarily vanished, only to be confronted with the twin tails of a B24 Liberator. At this point I could only see the tail plane of the aircraft although stretching away from me I could make out the lines of the plane and the wings. Spending most of the dive around the tail plane and not wanting to venture too far from the anchor as a stiff North Westerly was in the making, I was afraid the anchor may start to drag. I started to explore the tail section of the wreck.

Crosair lies in 27.5 meters of water a little over 1/4 mile from the tiny coral Island of Kawa. Remote is not the word for Kawa but you can definately see the end of the world from this place. I did one more dive on the aircraft before the weather broke for the worst and had to suspend diving for the time been. The second dive was more or less the same as the first with visibility at 100 ft but I explored the remainder of the Aircraft. The B24 had landed upside down on a very white sandy bottom. There seems to be very little damage except to the tail plane and bomb bay area.

The wings are in perfect condition as well as the engines. I noticed that the stb. engine had been feathered. Very little coral has formed on the entire plane, machine guns still protrude from the front of the aircraft. Unfortunately I have not at this stage had a chance to fully explore the craft and would have loved to have done another 4-5 dives before departing for Alotau."

Exterpt from one of the crew members at the time of ditching. (John Perakos.)

"December 31st. We flew from Iron Range to Port Moresby. There we staged for a raid on Rabaul. The early morning hours of January 1st were spent searching for our target, but to no avail. We did make our presence felt with 4 1000 pound bombs dropped on the target area, a fighter strip hopefully. We had been flying at 9,000 feet when alarmingly, the numbers 3 and 4 engines quit. Suddenly, from 9,000 feet we were down to 500 feet over St George's Channel and barely maintaining air speed. Orders to bail out were rescinded fortunately. All guns, ammo, parachutes, etc. were jettisoned, as we headed to Port Moresby. Dawn found us with Kawa island on our port when the number 3 and 4 engines froze, burnt out. Major Kuhl put the plane into a steep glide. Immediately I asked Lt. Alexander for a leg up out of the cockpit hatch, which he did. I now found myself out of the plane, onto the wing and completely terrified. It was impossible for Alexander to pull me back into the fuselage. Major Kuhl beautifully skimmed the surface of tjhe water before impact. On impact, I was projected forward with incredible force. I have no memory of what happened whatsoever. When I regained consciousness, I was lying on the bottom in a depth of approx. 20 to 25 feet. The port wing was over my head. I was drowning. My lungs had filled with water and my mind was in a dreamlike state. With the last of my strength and consciousness, I inflated my Mae West and rose to the surface where I vomited and retched, but I was alive. What followed is rather of interest, but suffice it to say, we the survivors, got on two life rafts and landed on Kawa Island. From there we boarded a sail boat, rendezvoused with a Sunderland Flying Boat at sea, and then flown to ? Bay and later flown back to Iron Range courtesy of Lt. John Johnson."

Crew Members:
Pilot, P.J. Kuhl, Maj.
Co-Pilot, Church Boster, 2ndLt.
Bombarder, John Perakos
Navigator, Alexander, 2nd Lt.
Crew Chief, Killed on later Mission
Tail Gunner Trapped and killed in crash.
Radio, Sgt. Ray Rhodes
Waist Gunner was killed in ditching due to a broken back.

Rod Pearce
Niugini Diving Ltd.,
P.O. Box 320
Lae, Papua New Guinea

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