B24 Liberator A72-80

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This is an edited part of a letter that I wrote to Kevin Pearce of "Seair" in Broome when he told me that he was "going to look" for the wreckage of A72-80 in 2005. Whether he found it or not is unknown. (DJH Aug 2009)

Firstly, I would like to attempt to solve some of the mysteries and rumours surrounding its demise.

As you know, any information or research regarding this aircraft is of great personal interest to me, and also Ian Parry-Okeden, nephew of the Bombardier. Beginning in 2002, I have made sporadic attempts to uncover further “interested relatives” but - short of a National Advertising campaign, or mass mailings to all the likely names in the Australian phone book - he is one of the few known to me*, and will be kept informed of progress.

As you can imagine, my interest in this aircraft has been ‘lifelong’, but it was only in 2002 that I began systematic and thorough research into it, and have been plugging away at it (along with quite a few others) ever since . Even so, have not been able to uncover any ‘plausible’ theory or reason why this aircraft ‘went into the drink’ - and always try to keep ALL options open.

In addition, or as an alternative, to the search for “locking pins” - and depending on which part, or parts of the aircraft that are located - these are the questions that I would like answered…

Is the
“control lock” lever - situated between, and just aft of the pilot’s seats - up, or down?.
Are the
cowl vents open or closed?
Are the
wheels up or down?
Are the
bombs, and/or belly tank still on board?
What is the position of the

It would, I suggest, be unwise to focus solely on the “control lock” theory. Yes, that is one possibility, and yes, deep down, I hope that theory can be dis-proved as have to admit to an emotional rejection of the thought that my father died due to “pilot error”. Also, it is my understanding that Straus was highly regarded (perhaps even ‘loved’) by his crew and fellow pilots. However, am not so silly as to let that get in the way of “actual fact”.

The Court of Enquiry was held during wartime, and perhaps not as ‘thorough’ as they would have been given other circumstances.. There was also the question of “morale”.
Have kept all that in mind while reading the “witness statements”, and view the “statements” from the pilots with some caution. It is, however, my opinion that the Ground Crew had no real ‘vested interest’.

Having said all that, let me dwell on the “control lock” theory.
It is always more helpful when getting to the bottom of things if original sources can be quoted. If not, then “apparently” or “It seems” might be appropriate.

The pilots last words of “I stuffed up” quote comes from rumour based on hearsay based on speculation. I first heard that - or version of it - during a telephone conversation with Howard Young sometime in 2003. In fact the version I heard was - “shit! I stuffed this one up.” While either one has a higher probability than the Biggles Billy Bunterish “Sorry Chaps, I have to ditch it.” as reported by F/L Eldin Moore - there is no record of ANY message whatsoever in the radio logs. These, also, are suspect - as the radio operator admitted that there was so much traffic at that particular time he didn’t have time to write everything down - but there IS the circumspect notation in the Squadron Log for 23rd March 1945 which says “..
At 0713 a message was received that S/L Straus was about to ditch into Vansittart Bay..” - whatever THAT may mean.

The story behind the ‘alternative’ quote goes something like this..
Howard told me that during the “Truscott Base Reunion “ in year 2000, a group of B24 pilots who attended that reunion held an impromptu meeting to discuss the crash of A72-80, and developed a theory as to the cause. When I pressed Howard to tell me what that theory was, he refused to tell me, saying that he had a “pact” with the pilots to “never reveal” what they decided. I thought that a bit odd, especially since he had already let slip the “shit,I stuffed up” quote. I do, however understand his position regarding the “pact”, frustrating as it may be. There is also the possibility that the “pilots theory” found its way onto Peter Dunns web site as “the control lock theory”, and has been circulating as rumour ever since.
Even if “..I stuffed this one up” IS true, there is the possibility that he said it as a ‘general’ exclamation due to his responsibility as ‘captain’ of the WHOLE flight, rather than any specific ‘mistake’.

Since July 2004, for reasons I won’t go into here, Howard has severed all communication with me, so am unable to follow up what the pilot’s decision was, or who it was that either “heard” it, or thought it more likely than the “official” version.

I haven’t been able to canvass every incident or account where this has happened, but have been in contact with several B24 pilots and crew members who have furnished similar to the following thoughts.

Yes, you could lock the controls mechanically. You had to neutralize (centre) the controls and pull up on the locking lever, located between the pilot and copilot on the control stand near the floor. There was a strap attached to the ceiling that had a hook at the end that hooked in the locking lever this held the lever in locked position.

Flight Engineer, B24 Web Forum.
I had an incident to happen one time. We were lined up waiting our turn to take off and there was a delay for some reason and the propwash from the other planes was shaking our controls, so the pilot locked them. After some delay it came our turn to take off as we were rolling down the runway the pilot asked the copilot if he was riding the controls as he could not move the rudder. I was so intent watching the instruments that I didn’t see the strap holding the locking lever until the pilot mentioned the control problem at that point I grabbed the strap and unhooked it.( Note: you had to lock all the controls at once. You could not lock them separately. As an old Engineer it’s been a long time so Harlan you may have to verify)"

Harlan Price (RIP 2003) B24 Pilot USAF.
“could the plane become air-borne with controls locked”? Memory tells me that the controls locked in a neutral position. If this is true then the answer would depend on several factors. The most important is weight. Is the plane very light, light, moderate, heavy or very heavy in weight? If it is very light, or light I believe it might be possible,
if----------------you had from 6,000 to 8,000 feet of runway and a reasonable breeze. In short, I would not be surprised if it came off, with the controls neutral, at 125 MPH if it was very light or light. Do I think it could ever be done, as a test, or accidentally? No, for primarily one reason. It would take full power, or reasonably close to that, and how are you going to keep it straight on the runway when torque starts to take over? (This is assuming that rudders were locked either with Control Lock or exterior locks on RAF version of B24). Thirdly, there is the matter of the checklist. Not only do you check if controls are free, but if you want to live to be an Old Pilot, you will have a crewman checking that flight controls move in proper direction!!"

My final reason for thinking this could not happen assumes that all the Guys followed the same habit that I had and this is it. After slowly giving takeoff power and the plane gained a little speed, I would just automatically come back on the yoke a little bit so I could feel when elevator pressure would start to show up. Now, when those locks are in place, you did not have much, if any, “play” in the movement of the elevator and I assure you, beyond any reasonable doubt, there is now way you wouldn’t realize that the control was either locked, or jammed, RIGHT AWAY!!! At this point, I doubt if the plane would have travelled over 500 to 800 feet and would have picked up very little speed and cutting power and gentle braking would have been routine.
The rudders had little effect unless you had some speed so I used a combination of #1 and #4 engines and LIGHT braking. It worked very well and did not seem to be abusive to the nose gear.

This aircraft was fully loaded, and this was not a “rushed” or “hurried” take-off - in that they were the first off, not waiting behind other aircraft and had no rendezvous to make.

Corporal E. L. McKinley, Fitter. 24 Squadron. Witness No. 6
When the pilot taxied out on to the strip did he stop or did he carry out his take-off without stopping?
C.I would say that he stopped there for about a minute

F/O R.I Smith. Duty Pilot in Tower. Witness No.18.
Q. “
Prior to the takeoff of the aircraft did you notice whether A72-80 stopped at the end of the strip?
A. As far as I remember he turned onto the strip, stopped and then commenced his run.”

So, it will be extremely interesting to see what is discovered.

David J. Hursthouse 2005


Postscript; August 2009 -
*Since this letter was written, am now in contact with the niece of Bill Flanagan, and cousins of John Ryan.

Images from a recent dive expedition indicate that there is not much of it left; but that the flaps were extended, and the wheels were retracted at impact.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning - we will remember them | dvdh707@gmail.com

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