Lady Be Good (aircraft)

Lady Be Good (aircraft)

Infobox Airliner accident
Name = "Lady Be Good"

Image caption = U.S. Air Force Photo of "Lady Be Good" in the Libyan desert.
Date = April 4, 1943
Type = Navigation error
Site = coord|26|42|45.7|N|24|01|27|E|
Origin = Benina Airfield
Destination = Benina Airfield
(having bombed flagicon|Italy|1861-state|size=16px Naples)
Fatalities = 9
Aircraft Type = B-24D Liberator
Operator = flagicon|USA United States Army Air Force
Crew = 9

The "Lady Be Good" was an American B-24D Liberator of the United States Army Air Forces, serial number 41-24301, during World War II. Based at Benina Airfield in Soluch (today Suluq), Libya, it crashed in April 1943 returning from a mission and was later discovered hundreds of miles into the Sahara with its crew mysteriously missing.

Following an April 4 1943 bombing raid on Naples, Italy, conducted by the 376th Bomb Group, the "Lady Be Good" of the 514th Bomb Squadron failed to return to base. After attempts to locate the plane in Libya, its nine crewmen were classified as MIA, and presumed dead, believed to have perished after crashing in the Mediterranean.

Background and mission

The crew of "Lady Be Good" were on their first combat mission, having arrived in Libya on March 18. The aircraft itself was also new, reaching the 376th BG on March 25. The ship had the identification number 64 painted on its nose and was one of 25 assigned to bomb Naples late in the afternoon of April 4.

The members of the "Lady Be Good" crew were:
*1st Lt. William J. Hatton - pilot - Whitestone, New York
*2nd Lt. Robert F. Toner - co-pilot - North Attleborough, Massachusetts
*2d Lt. D.P. (initials only, also seen as "Dp") Hays - navigator - Lee's Summit, Missouri
*2d Lt. John S. Woravka - bombardier - Cleveland, Ohio
*T/Sgt. Harold J. Ripslinger - flight engineer - Saginaw, Michigan
*T/Sgt. Robert E. LaMotte - radio operator - Lake Linden, Michigan
*S/Sgt. Guy E. Shelley - gunner - New Cumberland, Pennsylvania
*S/Sgt. Vernon L. Moore - gunner - New Boston, Ohio
*S/Sgt. Samuel R. Adams - gunner - Eureka, Illinois

The crew took off from Benina shortly after 3:00 p.m., one of the last to depart. High winds and obscured visibility (and possibly the crew's inexperience) prevented it from joining the main formation of bombers, and it continued the mission on its own.

An 8:52 p.m. entry in the navigator's log shows a bearing of 140° that indicates the plane abandoned the mission and turned back towards base, but its whereabouts at that time are not known and may have been a source of dispute among the crew itself. At approximately 10:00 p.m. the plane dropped its bombs into the Mediterranean to reduce weight and decrease its fuel consumption.

At around midnight the pilot, Lt. Hatton, called base by radio and stated that his automatic direction finder was not working and asked for a location of base. He was apparently given a bearing but it is unknown if "Lady Be Good" received the transmission or not. The plane apparently overflew its base and did not see flares fired to attract its attention and continued into the interior of North Africa for two more hours.

Wreckage found

On February 27, 1959, British oil surveyor Paul Johnson located the wreckage of the "Lady Be Good" near coord|26|42|45.7|N|24|01|27|E| , 440 statute miles southeast of Soluch, following up a first sighting from the air on May 16, 1958, and another on June 15. A recovery team made initial trips from Wheelus Air Base to the crash site on May 26, 1959.McClendon, Dennis E. "Lady Be Good, Mystery Bomber of World War II", Aero Publishers, Inc, 1962] Although the plane was broken into two pieces, it was immaculately preserved, with functioning machine guns, a working radio, and some supplies of food and water. A thermos of tea was found to be drinkable. No human remains were found on board the aircraft, nor were parachutes found.

Evidence aboard the plane indicated that the men had bailed out. Records in the log of the navigator Lieutenant Hays ended at Naples, which initially suggested that he may have been incapacitated by altitude sickness. (However notes of questions asked of Hays found in the pocket of Lt. Woravka, who shared the same compartment with the navigator, later indicated otherwise). The United States Army conducted a search for the remains of the airmen. Finding evidence of the men's progress northward, the exploration concluded that their bodies were buried beneath sand dunes.

After the crew abandoned the aircraft, it continued flying southward until crashing in the desert. The mostly intact wreckage and evidence that at least one engine was still operating at the time of impact suggests the aircraft gradually lost altitude, landing on its belly.

Bodies recovered

In 1960, the bodies of eight airmen were discovered by another British oil exploration after an extensive ground search. Periodically, footwear, parachute scraps, Mae West vests, and other artifacts had been placed as markers to indicate the direction of travel of the crew. Five were found nearly 80 miles from the crash site, while another two were found another twenty and twenty seven miles farther north, respectively. A journal recovered from the pocket of co-pilot Robert Toner indicated that the crew were unaware they were over land when they decided to bail out. Eight of the men had managed to meet up by firing their revolvers and signal flares into the air and had survived for eight days, sharing a single canteen of water, before perishing, managing over 100 miles in searing heat.

Three of the eight (Guy Shelley, 'Rip' Ripslinger and Vernon Moore) had set off to try and find help while the other five waited behind. The crew never suspected that they were more than 400 miles inland. The body of one of the three, Staff Sergeant Vernon L. Moore, assistant radio operator-gunner, was never found [It is possible that human remains encountered in the general area as Shelley and Ripslinger were those of Moore. The remains had been discovered and immediately buried by a British patrol on a desert-crossing exercise in 1953. This explains why they were not encountered later during the search of the crew, regardless of whether they were Moore's or not. The discovery of the remains did not become widely known until 2001 and the patrol did not request an investigation; the "Lady Be Good" was not known to have crashed in the desert at that time. Forensic investigation of a photo of the remains concluded that they were probably of a male with a head shaped not unlike Moore's. [] ] The body of the last man, bombardier John Woravka, was found not far from the crash site. The other crew members could not find him and presumed him lost. In fact, his parachute had only partially opened, and he apparently died on impact.

The crew could have survived had they known how far inland they were and had their maps covered the area in which they had bailed out. The distance they covered, heading north, was only slightly less than the distance to the oasis of El Zighen to the south. On their way there, they would have come across the wreckage of the "Lady Be Good" and the water stored aboard.

According to the Graves Registration Report on the incident:

The aircraft flew on a 150 degree course toward Benina Airfield. The craft radioed for a directional reading from the HF/DF station at Benina and received a reading of 330 degrees from Benina. The actions of the pilot in flying 440 miles into the desert, however, indicate the navigator probably took a reciprocal reading off the back of the radio directional loop antenna from a position beyond and south of Benina but 'on course'. The pilot flew into the desert, thinking he was still over the Mediterranean and on his way to Benina." [ "Lady Be Good" B-24 Bomber, Quartermaster Graves Registration Search and Recovery ] ]


Parts of the plane were scavenged or returned to the United States for evaluation. Curiously, several aircraft that were repaired with parts scavenged from the "Lady Be Good" crashed. An Army 'Otter' that had an armrest from the bomber, crashed in the Gulf of Sidra. The only traces that were ever found from the plane were a few parts that washed ashore - including the armrest from the "Lady Be Good". [ [ Fact Sheets : Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” : Consolidated B-24D “Lady Be Good” ] ]

Aside from components reused in other aircraft, other parts from the "Lady Be Good" may be seen today at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. One propeller can be seen in front of the Village Hall in Lake Linden, the home of Robert E. LaMotte. A Royal Air Force team visited the site in 1968, and hauled away components including an engine (later donated to the USAF) for evaluation by the McDonnell Douglas company. Other pieces were stripped by souvenir hunters over the years. In August 1994, the remains of the craft were recovered by a team led by Dr. Fadel Ali Mohammed and taken to a military base in Tobruk for safekeeping.

Cultural references

The "Lady Be Good" incident was indirectly referenced in a couple of television shows and movies. " Sole Survivor (1970 film)", a 1970 made-for-TV movie [ (see IMDB entry)] , was about the ghosts of a B-25 bomber crew that crashed in the Libyan desert. [ [ Sole Survivor] ] ""King Nine" Will Not Return" is an episode of "The Twilight Zone" that told the story of a B-25 crew member finding himself alone with the wreckage of his plane in the desert. [ [ "The Twilight Zone" King Nine Will Not Return (1960) ] ]

The film "The Flight of the Phoenix" features a plot similar to the "Lady Be Good" tragedy. In this movie, a transport plane crashes in a remote desert with a full crew, who must decide the best way to reach civilization.


External links

* [ 376th heavy bomb group]
* [ "Lady Be Good" B-24 Bomber] [1]
* [ Lady Be Good fact sheet from the National Museum of the USAF]

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