By Brian (Jack) Plenty
The following information has been collocated by Brian (Jack) Plenty and obtained from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Australian War Memorial (AWM) and websites ozatwar.com and ww2talk.com. As noted below, some further clarification research is ongoing.
At 6.00 am on 18 September 1945, 38 Squadron Dakota A65-61, VH-CUT took off from Wama Airfield on Moratai in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). It arrived at Mokmer airfield on Biak Island at 10.30 am. The aircraft then took off in clear weather at 11.15 am enroute to Townsville via Higgins Field on the northern tip of Cape York. Some sources have indicated the route was via Horn Island. RAAF History states Higgins Field.
On board were six aircrew, one nursing officer from the Morotai-based No 2 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit, 18 army wounded patients, three RAAF passengers and an Army officer not recorded on the flight manifest. The ozatwar.com and ww2talk.com websites differ regarding the number of aircrew and nursing staff. Ozatwar.com indicates five aircrew and two nursing officers and ww2talk.com indicates six aircrew and one nursing officer. Further research is being conducted to try and resolve this aspect.
Normal procedure for aircraft departing Biak was to radio in 15 minutes after take-off and then again when they had reached their cruising altitude. A65-61 did not make its first 15 minutes radio call and disappeared along with its 29 occupants. No trace was found during searches in New Guinea. At the time it was thought that it would not have reached the Australian mainland.
The briefed route from Biak to Higgins Field was to fly southwest across Geelvink Bay (Cenderawasih Bay) and the Vegelkop Neck of the Bird’s Head Peninsula (Kepala Burung) then down the west coast of Dutch New Guinea and onto Higgins Field. See map below.
The cause of the accident remains conjecture to this day, but unconfirmed reports indicate that the captain was attempting to fly the more direct track to Higgins Field in lieu of the briefed route. The route crosses the main mountain range that has many peaks above 16,000 feet. The wreckage is located about 120 miles east of the Geelvink-Volgelkop Neck route. The location of the wreck seems to indicate that the aircraft was flying north at the time of impact, suggesting that it may have encountered clouds in the high valley and then attempted to turn around out of the valley.
Imagery of Mount Carstensz is below. Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) at 16,024 feet above sea level is the highest summit of Mount Carstensz (Mount Jayawijaya) and the highest mountain in Indonesia.
Discovery of Wreckage
There are some differences in information between the AWM, ozatwar.com and RAAF History as to when the wreckage was first sighted and positively identified.The AWM website notes that the wreckage was first sighted by Mr Jerry Reeder, an American missionary, in 1967, whilst flying over the area and then in 1968, he and two other Americans and positively identified the wreckage.
Ozatwar.com/ozcrashes/qld150.htm states that on 16 October 1968 Mr Reeder was
flying his aircraft across the Nassau Range at 14,500 feet when he saw a flash of light
in a ravine below him. He flew down to discover the wreckage of a large silvery
aircraft on the side of Mount Carstens.
Mr Reeder returned in mid-1970 with two American timbermen from the D.E. Lowe
Corporation in a Bell Ranger helicopter and landed near the wreckage. They were
able to determine that it was a World War II Dakota military aircraft. The camouflage
had faded from the fuselage but they were able to make out the letters “CUT” in faint
yellow on the tail. They found many scattered human bones and a half-burnt women’s
shoe near the wreckage. The aircraft had apparently hit the side of the valley with one
wingtip, which slewed the aircraft into the high mountainside. It then fell about 3,000
feet to the valley below and caught fire. Mr Reeder reported that the wreckage was
located at about 13,500 feet above sea level.
The RAAF History notes that the wreckage was located in April 1967 at 14,200 feet
up the side of Mount Carstensz (spelt Carstairs), with RAAF teams visiting the site in
December 1970 and 1999 with a final visit in May 2005 to recover the last remains
and lay a commemorative plaque.
Crew and passengers
The 28 military personnel killed are listed below. It was subsequently determined that
an unknown Army officer was on the aircraft but not listed on the manifest and so is
not recorded below. The information is taken from the website ww2talk.com/inmemoriam-
47. The information differs slightly from that on ozatwar.com regarding the ages of
some personnel and their home locations.
38 Squadron aircrew
Warrant Officer A.J. Hunter, 25yrs of Lambton, NSW
Warrant Officer A.C. Hughes, 24yrs of Warialda, NSW
Warrant Officer E. Wilkinson, 32yrs of Silkstone, QLD
Flight Sergeant K.R. Wiles, 23yrs of Footscray, VIC
Flight Sergeant A.G. Sawrey, 33yrs of Concord, NSW
Sergeant F.L.H. Blackmore, 28yrs of Welland, SA
Sister M.E. Craig, RAAF Nursing Sister, 31yrs of Drummoyne, NSW
Flying Officer N.R. Stibbard, 24yrs of Wollongong, NSW
Warrant Officer A. Campbell, 26yrs of Taree, NSW
Leading Aircraftsman W.R. Dunderdale, 19yrs of Oxley, QLD
Lance Sergeant A.J. Hyde, 38yrs, 30 Works Company, Australian Army Labour
Service, of Croydon, NSW
Corporal G.J. Welch, 34yrs, 2/102 General Transport Company, Australian Army
Service Corps, of Queanbeyan, NSW
Private K.J. Bowden, 22yrs, 2/12 Australian Infantry Battalion, of San Souci, NSW
Private L.A. Coombe, 35yrs, 2/4 Pioneer Australian Infantry Battalion, of Camden,
Private M.J. Ford, 24yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Paramatta, NSW
Private A.T. Jorgenson, 20yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Toowoomba,
Private J. McAlorum, 21yrs, 2/23 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Red Hill, QLD
Private I.S. McDowall, 23yrs, 1 Parachute Maintenance Platoon, Australian Army
Ordnance Corps, of Brisbane, QLD
Private L.T. Oakley, 21yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Burnie, TAS
Private I.T.L. Ray, 19yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Canberra, ACT
Private D.W. Smith, 23yrs, 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Milton, NSW
Private J.I. Tindall, 32yrs, 2/16 Australian Infantry Battalion, of Narooma, NSW
Trooper F.J. Ireland, 23yrs, 2/5 Australian Commando Squadron, of Maroubra
Trooper G.P. Duffy, 22yrs, 2/5 Australian Commando Squadron, of Clayfield, QLD
Trooper R.L. Mathieson, 20yrs, 2/6 Australian Commando Squadron, of
Sapper J.F. McDougall, 24yrs, 5 Mechanical Equipment Company, Royal Australian
Engineers, of Mayfield, NSW
Sapper J. Matthews, 22yrs, 9 Workshop and Park Company, Royal Australian
Engineers, of Orange, NSW
Gunner T. Eiszelle, 24yrs, 2/8 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, of Sandy
On 3 December 1970, the Australian military undertook Operation Tropic Snow to
recover the remains of those killed in the crash. The recovery was supported by three
RAAF C-130 Hercules, two RAAF UH-1H helicopters, a RAAF Caribou and Army
Pilatus Porter. After some delay due bad weather, a RAAF helicopter winched down
two personnel to the crash site. They were winched up about 90 minutes later with
some of the remains of the victims, which were subsequently taken to Port Moresby
for identification. Time was limited at the crash site because of changing weather and
the fuel and oxygen endurance of the helicopters.
The remains were buried in the Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery with full
military honours on 26 January 1971. The Pacific Island Regiment together with its
Pipes and Drums took part in the ceremony, attended by service representatives and
families of the deceased.
The AWM has a three-minute, RAAF Public Relations film (16mm black and white,
silent) made during Operation Tropic Snow. The footage shows equipment and
supplies being unloaded in West Irian from a C-130E, a UH-1H helicopter being
unloaded from a C-130A and UH-1H flights around the crash site
(awm.gov.au/collection/ F02799). The AWM covering note indicates that the Dakota
belonged to No.2 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit. This is incorrect as the
aircraft was on the strength of 38 Squadron but tasked in support of No. 2 Medical Air
Evacuation Transport Unit.
The AWM also has imagery of a rusted watch and fountain pen belonging to Private
I.T.L. Ray, 2/31 Battalion, one of the passengers on the flight, recovered from the site
in 2005 (awm.gov.au/collection/REL35147.001 & 002). Private Ray was born in
Canterbury, Victoria on 25 January 1926. He was a public servant with the
Commonwealth Department of Treasury in Canberra, enlisting on 6 May 1944 with
2/31 Infantry Battalion. After training, Private Ray landed at Balikpapan with his
battalion on 2 July 1945. He was wounded in the left arm later in the month and sent
to Morotai for medical treatment. He was evacuated from Morotai by 38 Squadron on
the 18 September 1945 flight.
Details of the RAAF visit to the crash site in1999 have been difficult to locate and
remains work in progress.
A further expedition, Exercise Dakota Recovery, was mounted from 23 May to 6 June
2005, as a joint exercise between the RAAF and the Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU)
to recover the last of the remains. A combined team of 10 personnel (five RAAF and
five TNI-AU)) travelled to Tembagapura, West Irian to conduct the final recovery.
They were assisted by the local mining company, PT Freeport Indonesia and members
of the local community. A significant number of skeletal remains and personal items
belonging to the crew and passengers were recovered.
On 10 August 2005, a military funeral was conducted at the Port Moresby Bomana
War Cemetery to honour the passengers and crew of A65-61. Representatives of all
families were invited to attend and those attending were flown to Papua New Guinea
by RAAF C-130. Images of the crash site, courtesy of the RAAF, are below with
additional imagery at: https://images.defence.gov.au/fotoweb/archives/5003-