C 53 Skytrooper - Vansittart Bay

The wreck of the USAAF C 53 Skytrooper of the 21st Troop Carrier Squadron that crashed on the 26th February 1942. Piloted by 2 Lt. Ray Van Diver, co-pilot Mel Lewis, radio operator Cpl. Mal Sharp and flight engineer Sgt. Buck Lambert.

 

In February 1942, allied forces were involved in the evacuation of Dutch refugees from Java via Broome by flying boats. This was only two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the Japanese forces had successfully expanded right through South East Asia in a matter of weeks. Following the invasion of Java by the Japanese forces Australian, Dutch and United States flying boats were evacuating Dutch civilians through Broome.

 

The C 53 was involved in the transfer of refugees from Broome to Perth and was on the return leg back to Broome on the night of the 26th February. Onboard were the American crew and two Australian servicemen, David Campbell and Jack Lyons who were being transported to their new assignments in the north. Flying through thick wet season storms and with Broome partially blacked out due to the first attack on Darwin only a week prior, the C 53 was unable to locate the airstrip and was soon hopelessly lost flying over the vast, dark, uninhabited Kimberley. When the C 53 was 400 miles from Broome, with fuel almost empty, pilot Ray Van Diver had no option but commit to a forced landing in a large salt pan on the eastern shore of Vansittart Bay. He brought the plane down with the landing gear retracted skidding across the salt pan. The C 53 partially tipped on to its nose as it slid off the edge of the clearing into the surrounding vegetation and collected a Boab with its port wing spinning the aircraft around before it came to a halt.

All the crew survived the landing and they created a distilling apparatus for fresh water out of wreckage from the plane. Over the following days search craft flew over the site including a Japanese surveillance plane that circled the wreck and the men below before flying on to the west. Five days after the crash, Broome was attacked by the Japanese for the first time. The crew didn't have to wait too long and after almost a week in the bush they were rescued by a Qantas Corinthian Flying Boat and the C 53 was left in place.

Six kilometres to the north east of the C 53 sits the top secret World War II staging base of Truscott Airfield that is once again operational today. Throughout the Anju Peninsular lay a number of scattered plane wrecks of B24 Liberators, Spitfires and a Japanese Dinah aircraft that was shot down over the area. It is a common misconception that the C 53 is associated with Truscott Airfield however, the airfield was not built until early 1944.