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  B-17E Flying Fortres Serial Number 41-2446 (aka "Swamp Ghost") 
USAAF
7th BG
22nd BS
US Navy Task Force

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USAAF June 1942

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USAAF 1942

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Aust Army October 1972

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Charles Darby 1974

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J. Mierzejewski 1976

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Bill Thompson 1980

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Bruce Hoy 1986

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John Douglas 1996Click For Enlargement
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Justin Taylan 2003

The Swamp Ghost DVD
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May 2006
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Richard Leahy 2006

Pilot  Captain Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr., 0395142 (survived)
Co-Pilot  Captain Henry M. "Hotfoot" Harlow, 0398714 (survived)
Navigator  1st Lt. George B. Munroe, Jr., 0412187 (survived)
Bombardier  Sgt Richard E. Oliver, 6578837 (survived)
Engineer  T/Sgt. Clarence A. LeMieux, 6558901 (survived)
Radio/Gunner  Sgt . Howard A. Sorensen, 6581180 (survived)
Waist Gunner  Sgt William E. Schwartz, 6913702 (survived)
Waist Gunner  T/Sgt Russell Crawford, 6851455 (survived)
Tail Gunner  SSgt. John V. Hall, 6710161
(survived)
Force Landed  February 23, 1942
MACR  none
Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle.
Constructors number 2257. Delivered by the U. S. Army on December 6, 1941 and flown to Fort Douglas Airfield by Lt. John Haig.

Next, to Sacramento Air Depot for armament installation. Assigned to pilot Frederick 'Fred' Eaton, it was flown from California to Hawaii on December 17 and landed at Hickam Field, then flown to Wheeler Field. Attached to the US Navy and flew search missions around Hawaii. The original bombardier, Sgt. J. J. Trelia had become sick, and Richard Oliver joined the crew instead.

Overseas Ferry Flight
On February 11 departed Hawaii for Australia as part of "A flight" led Major Carmichael
flying first to Christmas Island. The next day, it flew eight hours to Canton Island, then landed at Nandi Airfield and were delayed at Fiji one day while the loyalties of the Vichy French in New Caledonia were ascertained.  Once considered safe, they transited through Plaine Des Gaiacs Airfield, and flew to Australia, arriving at Garbutt Field on February 20, 1942. Garbutt was considered an easy target for Japanese bombers, so this bomber was dispersed to Cloncurry. The next day it was recalled to Garbutt, for the USAAF's first raid in the South Pacific: a bombing mission against Rabaul. This would be this bomber's first and only combat mission.

Mission History
Part of a planned nine bomber raid, this aircraft took off from Garbutt Field near Townsville, late on the night February 22 to bomb shipping in Rabaul at Simpson Harbor at dawn the next morning, and return via 7-Mile Drome near Port Moresby to refuel before returning to Garbutt Airfield. Only five B-17s made it to Rabaul, the other aborted.

Over the target, Eaton's bomber had to make a second pass, due to a problem with its bomb bay, but finally dropped onto a freighter of 10,000 tons. Reportedly, on the second bomb run, an anti-aircraft shell that passed through the right wing without exploding, creating a visible hole. Results of the bombing were hard to observe due to clouds.

Off the target, the bomber was intercepted by fighters over Rabaul, and maneuvered to escape them. The tail gunner claimed one Zero, shot down at 24,000 feet after firing burst of 400 rounds from a range of 200-300 yards. Waist gunner Crawford, claimed two more. Their plane was hit by the attacker's 7.7mm and 20mm fire.

After the battle, they flew as far as the north coast of New Guinea, before running short on fuel. Eaton force landed in a kunai field with the wheels up. He thought it was was dry ground, but actually it was a swamp. As the bomber touched down, it turned slightly, pointing the nose of the bomber slightly SE, at 183 degree heading.

Escape & Rescue
Before departing, Sgt Richard E. Oliver removed the top secret Norden bomb sight, shot it with his pistol and threw it into the swamp. The rest of the B-17 was left intact and undisturbed. The entire crew departed away from the crash site together, initially towing one of the life rafts with equipment, but soon abandoned it due to the swamp and thick kunai grass.

Lost, the crew pushed ahead for days and at one point suffering from heat exhaustion and fatigue they considered splitting up, but decided to stay together. Finally, they spotted a native and were taken to his village where they were fed and spent the night.

After the crash, Australian Resident Magistrate, Alan Champion at Buna had been told a B-17 went down in his area and was told to search for the crew. Departed from Gona in a mission launch, he searched the area near Oro Bay and the Musa River. Unable to find them, he called into a village and found the crew in their care. The crew of nine were too numerous for his boat and required him to borrow a canoe from the village, to tow everyone back to Buna.

At Buna, the crew waited for two weeks until a ship arrived to take them from Oro Bay back to Port Moresby,. On the way their boat called into Samari Island then Abau Island before finally arriving to Port Moresby on April 1, 1942, 36 days after their crash landing. Afterwards, the crew was send to Australia and recovered in the hospital, then returned to flying combat missions.

Wreckage
Rediscovered in 1972, during an RAAF helicopter exercise in New Guinea. The B-17 was found to be in remarkable condition and fully intact.
All interior equipment was pre-WWII US Army Air Corps issue. Even the belted .50 Caliber ammunition were manufactured in 1933, 1935 and an occasional 1938 round. Airframe corrosion was negligible and no damage aside from bent propellers during crash landing, and some broken perspex glass.

Charles Darby visited the bomber on October 22, 1974 and was the first to publish photos of the B-17 in his book Pacific Aircraft Wrecks. His photos show radios, compass and flight yokes still in place.

After rediscovery, visitors to the wreck removed instruments, guns and ammunition. Sometime after 1974, the instruments and flight yokes were removed. The machine guns were removed by Australians in 1972 visit.  One 50 cal machine gun was later donated to the PNG Museum where it was displayed until 2006.

"Swamp Ghost" & International Icon
"The Swamp Ghost" nickname was coined by articles and visitors to the wreck. It is not the aircraft's wartime nickname.  The plane is nearly impossible to locate during the 'wet season', due to the high kunai grass and swamp around, and is half submerged in swamp water. Few visitors and no grass fires have have kept the plane in excellent condition.

The wreck appeared in National Geographic Magazine (March 1992, page 68-69). Also, in many books and magazine articles, and has been visited by people by foot and helicopter.

Salvage Proposal: Travis Air Force Base
From 1985-1987, a group from Travis Air Force Base wanted to recover the wreck and bring it back to the United States for restoration to flying status (but the plane would be permanently grounded). They presented a plan that included restoring several planes for the PNG Museum. Their plan was eventually rejected by the museum and their effort stalled.

Salvage Proposal: Tallichet / Hagen
Later, in the 1990s, Alfred Hagen began negotiating on behalf of David Tallichet / MARC for the right to salvage the wreck in exchange for $100,000 USD. The museum issued a permit in 1999 that expired in five years. Tallichet lost interest in the project after more stalls and delays. Alone, Hagen continued with the proposal No action was taken on the permit, and it expired without any salvage undertaken.

In 2003, Robert Greinert advised the PNG Museum's Board of Trustees that the wreck was falling apart and needed to be salvaged. Hagen did not have input or involvement with the reports production, but did fund the visit to the aircraft by Greinert and others on November 21, 2003. The 1999 export permit had expired, but this permit had an automatic renewal clause in the contract.

Salvage
Hagen and Greinert, along with a salvage team from America and Australia began the salvage of the wreck in late April until early May 2006. Salvagers cut off the wings, engines and tail stabilizers. With a hired MI-8 helicopter, the parts were flown to the coast, and loaded aboard a barge, then shipped to Lae.

Impounded at Lae
By the time the barge arrived at Bismarck Shipping at Lae, new of the salvage had spread. The controversy about its salvage and plans were made public in PNG's newspaper coverage. At Lae, the export was hauled. Two 50 Caliber machine guns in the Bendix turret, still present when the wreck was salvaged, were seized. The B-17 remained impounded at Lae from May 2006 until late January 2010.

PNG Government Investigation by Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
Investigated by the PNG Government's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) during May-September 2006, They found the salvage to be illegal.

Despite declaring the salvage and sale illegal, the salvagers continue to exert pressure on the PNG government and museum to allow them to export the wreck. During April 2008, the presented virtually the same proposal as originally offered, roughly $100,000 USD, but added the intention to donate a 'display facility' to the museum.

According to PNG newspaper article on September 10, 2008, a vote by the National Executive Council (NEC) has apparently reversed their decision, and accepted the offer for 300,000 Kina (roughly $115,000 USD) plus "display facility, recreation playground and barbecue area". The precise details of this deal, or copies of letters or executive orders have never been published to the public.

Export
During January 2010, salvager Hagen traveled back to PNG visiting Lae and Port Moresby. Suddenly, the B-17 was moved from Bismarck Shipping to the Lae dock and loaded aboard three 40' flat rack containers and loaded aboard Tasman Pathfinder and departed on January 27, 2010. Shipped via Auckland, New Zealand then on another ship bound for the United States. Around May 2010, the containers arrived at the Port of Long Beach, California.

Unveiling and Display
On June 11, 2010 an unveiling ceremony was held at the Reef Restaurant at Long Beach, displaying the fuselage of the B-17. The event was attended by the children of three of the crew plus John Talichet (son of David Talichet) and Alfred Hagen. Afterwards, the B-17 went into storage at Chino Airport.

On December 8, 2010, the fuselage went on display outdoors rinnged by a fence at Planes of Fame Museum at Chino Airport. On April 2, 2011 salvager Alfred Hagen gave a lecture "Recovering Lost Aircraft - B-17E Swamp Ghost" at the museum. During this period, the rear fuselage, tail and wings were stored outdoors at AeroTrader also located at Chino Airport.

During January 2013, the fuselage was removed from public display and moved to AeroTrader, where the bomber was readied for shipment to Hawaii. According to Flightpath Magazine July 2012, this B-17 was bound bound for the Pacific Aviation Museum (Ford Island Museum). When asked on February 25, 2013, executive director Ken DeHoff stated "no comment" when asked if Swamp Ghost was bound for the museumand declined to answer any questions.

References
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - B-17E Flying Fortress 41-2446
TheSwampGhost.com details this bomber, the crew, resources and photo archive
Swamp Ghost DVD video documentary detailing the aircraft and crew
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks page 7, 56 (middle & lower)
PNG Government Public Accounts Committee Reports about Swamp Ghost May-Sept 2006
Flightpath Magazine "Swamp Ghost to Hawaii" by Mike Shreeve July 2012, page 8

Contribute Information
Seeking any info or relatives of Howard Sorensen and J. J. Trelia.

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Last Updated
August 27, 2014

 

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