The fate of “Beautiful Betsy”, a WW2, USAAF B24D 53 CO Liberator Bomber, #42-40387 which disappeared in 1945.
Nicknamed “Beautiful Betsy”. Beautiful Betsy was a USAAF (US Army Air Force) B24D 53 CO Liberator, #42-40387, it was built by Consolidated Aircraft at San Diego USA between 4th and 16th February, 1943. Constructors Number 1464. First flight was on 20th February, 1943. Flown to Fort Worth USA modification center on the 6 March, 1943, then departed on 26th March via Topeka, Kansas to Hamilton Army Field, California USA.
On 15th April, 1943 the plane departed Hamilton Army Field and flown overseas to Australia, arriving at Amberly RAAF Field near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Assigned to the 5th Air Force, Beautiful Betsy was flown by the 90th Bombardment Group, 319th Bombardment Squadron on a familiarization mission. It was then assigned to the 380th Bombardment Group, 528th Bombardment Squadron based at Fenton Airfield, NT .
Beautiful Betsy’s first combat mission was the 11 June, 1943, piloted by Joe Roth on a bombing mission against Koepang. In total, Beautiful Betsy flew 22 combat missions.
Beautiful Betsy was retired from combat duties, mission records state “Relegated to Squadron Hack Status” in late 1943. Beautiful Betsy then served as a “fat cat” cargo and transport aircraft.
The mystery of Beautiful Betsy
On the 26th February, 1945, “Beautiful Betsy”, took off from Darwin, NT at 2200 hours on a ferry flight bound for Eagle Farm Airfield near Brisbane Qld. Aboard were the crew and two Royal Air Force (RAF) Spitfire pilots from 548 Squadron and passengers from the 380th Bombardment Group’s 528th and 530th Bombardment Squadrons. The Liberator was on what was referred to as a “Fat Cat mission” from Fenton NT to Eagle Farm Qld airfield. The last known position was in the Claraville, Far North Queensland area where the bomber was last reported at 3:00am.
Two days later, on the 27th & 28th February 1945, two B-24s flew the same route, focusing on the Claraville area, where the bomber was last reported being but failed to find any trace of the missing bomber, . This area was over 1000 kilometers from the actual crash site.
Further searches were conducted but no trace of the plane or crew/passengers were ever found.
It was not until 1994, almost 49 years after the plane was reported missing that the whereabouts and fate of the plane became known. The wreckage of “Beautiful Betsy” was discovered on the 2nd August 1994, by national parks ranger, Mark Roe, who stumbled upon the wreckage during back burning operations in the national park near Calliope, Queensland.
The location was kept secret until the authorities could investigate the crash scene and recover any human remains and personal effects. For several weeks during 1994, the RAAF and U. S. Army CILHI visited the crash site and recovered the remains of the crew.
The team recovered a dental prosthesis (bridge), 153 bone fragments and personal effects including: 9 dog tags, 2 ID bracelets, 38 coins, 4 gold rings and an aviator’s ring. Also, a flare gun with flare, aviator badge, bomber badge, whistle, two dress uniform belt buckles, 9 expended .45 cal rounds, 2 British buttons, 12 American buttons. Also a razor, cigarette lighter, three eyeglass frames, a pocket watch, and 1938 class ring.
As there were no weapons on board the plane they didn’t find any munitions or weapons.
The pilot, Lt. Bill McDaniel, volunteered to pilot the plane which had suffered combat fatigue and was only used for short runs. It had been retired from combat duties for some time. It is believe that it was about to be grounded for good, shortly after the doomed flight.
Bill McDaniel was married to Lorene and had one son. His widow, Lorene, was still living in 2001.
Flying Officer Roy Cannon, a 23-year old RAF Spitfire pilot who was a passenger on the doomed flight, was to have married his Australian sweetheart just four days after he perished in the crash.
Also killed was Cannon’s intended best man, RAF Flt Lt TJ. Cook.
The US personnel killed were pilot Lt William McDaniel, co-pilot Lt Eugene Kilcheski, engineer Sgt R.L. Tucker, radio operator Sgt H.J. Lemons, navigator Lt H.E. Routt and navigator-bombardier Lt J.W. Owen.
The crew was officially declared dead the day of the flight. The American crew members were memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After the discovery of the crash site, a bronze plaque was attached to a rock at the crash site that reads:
“In memory of the six Americans and and two British airmen who lost their lives here 27 February 1945.
Lt. William McDaniel (Captain) 380th Bomb Group, USAF
Lt. Eugene A. Kilcheski (Co-Pilot) 380th Bomb Group, USAF
Lt. Jack W. Owen (Navigator/bombardier) 380th Bomb Group, USAF
Lt. Raymond S. Tucker (Engineer) 380th Bomb Group, USAF
Sgt Harold J. Lemons (Radio operator) 380th Bomb Group, USAF
Passengers: British Spitfire pilots
Flg. Off. Roy Cannon 548th Squadron, RAF
Flt. Lt. Thomas Cook 548th Squadron, RAF
REST IN PEACE”
After the recovery of remains in 1994, the remains of the crew and passengers were buried on 29th September, 1995 at Arlington National Cemetery at section 34, collective grave 2084. The grave incorrectly lists their date of death as February 27, 1946.
Kilcheski also has a memorial marker at Arlington National Cemetery at section MC site 32E.
Owen is memorialized on a marker “in memory of those who died in service” at Hillside Cemetery in Fort Lupton, CO at Blk 80 Lot 3 Grave 1 & Memorial Stone.
The Crash Site
As an indication of the impact, everything forward of the tail section is twisted and burnt metal. If it hit the ground midsection as believed, it would be expected to have many pieces of mangled metal. The engines R-1830-43 serial numbers 42-40387, 42-90445, BP-428061 and CP-302849 are still visable at the crash site.
The tail section is the most obvious, with the right hand (starboard) elevator and rudder (stabilizer) still attached. The tail section is pointing down the ridge, opposite to the travel direction on impact. This section is also laying upside down eg. on its roof. Whether this was done during the recovery operation in 1994 or when the crash occurred is not known but I believe it happened when Beautiful Betsy crashed. You can clearly make out the wings and if you are interested in WW2 planes, you can identify many other parts of the plane, including the oxygen bottles, radio equipment, propellers, gunners escape door, wheel struts and wheel rims, just to name a few. Personally I could spend hours at the site, trying to work out the parts. There is of course many pieces of metal which would be impossible to identify now.
It also needs to be remembered there has been many fires at the crash site over the years and unfortunately some people have moved wreckage about, so it’s hard to get a full picture of the debri at the time of the crash.
The crash site is a haunting place, when you think that the crew laid there for almost 50 years before they were found in 1994.
It’s not a easy place to get to, you will need a 4×4 vehicle, but you could do a field trip over a four day period from Brisbane. Allow at least a few hours to explore the site. There are several campsites in the area.
Whatever you do, when you visit the site,
BE RESPECTFUL OF THE SITE
- Don’t use the area as a toilet
- Don’t leave your rubbish at the site or in the carpark
- Don’t steal bits as souvenirs (take nothing but photographs)
- Don’t move parts about
- Don’t climb inside the tail section
REMEMBER THAT 8 PEOPLE LOST THEIR LIVES HERE and the exact location of their death is unclear. You wouldn’t want someone digging around the grave of your relatives would you?
It has come to my attention that there were some parts of the plane salvaged by the B-24 Liberator Restoration Australia group in Victoria, with Government approval, for their B-24 Liberator, A72-176, Australia’s only surviving RAAF B-24 Liberator.
To read more about Beautiful Betsy and the crew & passengers.
Missing Air Crew Report 12758 (MACR 12758)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – William E. McDaniel
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Eugene A. Kilcheski
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Hilary E. Routt
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Jack W. Owen
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Harold J. Lemons
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – Raymond L. Tucker
CWGC – Thomas John Donald Cook
CWGC – Roy Albert Arthur Cannon
FindAGrave – 1Lt William E Mcdaniel (memorial marker photo)
FindAGrave – William E McDaniel (Arlington group burial photo)
FindAGrave – 2Lt Eugene A Kilcheski (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave – Eugene A Kilcheski (Arlington memorial marker)
FindAGrave – 2Lt Hilary E Routt
FindAGrave – Lieut Hilary E Routt (Arlington group burial photo)
FindAGrave – 2Lt Jack W Owen
FindAGrave – Lieut Jack W Owen (memorial marker)
FindAGrave – TSgt Raymond L Tucker
FindAGrave – Harold Jefferson Lemons (Arlington group burial photo)
The Searchers covers the discovery of this crash site
380th BG Association – B-24D “Beautiful Betsy” 42-40387
380th BG Association – B-24D “Beautiful Betsy ” 42-40387 – Mission Record
Australian Army report on B-24 “Beautiful Betsy” 1994
Aerothentic “Rundle’s Obsession Beautiful Betsy 42-40387
ABMC previously listed “remains recovered” for each American crew member
Best in the Southwest page 41, 72, 474 (photos, artwork)
King of the Heavies page 160