1943 Liberator crash at Whenuapai
Gyro horizon from a B-24 Liberator
|Date||2 August 1943|
|Summary||Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)|
|Aircraft type||Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express|
|Flight origin||Whenuapai Aerodrome|
The 1943 Liberator crash at Whenuapai was an aircraft accident in New Zealand during World War II. TVNZ covered the crash during the program Secret New Zealand in 2003, and posited the accident was covered up, due to concerns of reprisals against POWs.
The Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express aircraft, owned by the USAAF and operated using a United Airlines crew, was transferring Japanese men, women and children of the Consular Corps, to exchange for Allied POWs. On 2 August 1943, it took off from Whenuapai Aerodrome runway 04 at 2:20 am, with rain and fog conditions at minimums for departure, and quickly passed through low stratus. Captain Herschel Laughlin’s gyro horizon had inadvertently been left caged – while the instrument displayed level flight, the aircraft entered a steepening bank to the left. The crew detected the problem in a few seconds, but as the aircraft was straightening up and levelling out, it hit the ground at about 322 km/h (200 mph), bounced a few times and exploded. The third bounce threw its first officer, R. John Wisda, out through the canopy; he rolled end over end about 100 metres (330 ft) through mud and reeds. A medic later found him trying to keep warm near a burning tyre. The major factors of the accident were the lack of a pre-flight checklist, and crew fatigue (126 flying hours in the last 26 days).
The crash killed three of the five crew (United States nationals), and eleven of the twenty-five passengers (eight Japanese and three Thai nationals). Two additional passengers died later from injuries. The TSS Wahine took the surviving internees from Wellington to Sydney three months later.
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