US Navy Task Force
Frederick 'Fred' C. Eaton, Jr., 0395142
Co-Pilot Captain Henry M. "Hotfoot" Harlow, 0398714
Navigator 1st Lt. George B. Munroe, Jr., 0412187
Bombardier Sgt Richard E. Oliver, 6578837
Engineer T/Sgt. Clarence A. LeMieux, 6558901
Radio/Gunner Sgt . Howard A. Sorensen, 6581180
Waist Gunner Sgt William E. Schwartz, 6913702
Waist Gunner T/Sgt Russell Crawford, 6851455
Tail Gunner SSgt. John V. Hall, 6710161
Force Landed February 23, 1942
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Constructors number 2257. Accepted by the US 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
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
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.
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
Salvage Proposal: Travis Air Force Base
Salvage Proposal: Tallichet / Hagen
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.
Impounded at Lae
PNG Government Investigation by Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
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.
Unveiling and Display
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.