|Pilot Pilot Officer James Park
Grounded September 16, 1944
Built by Consolidated in San Diego, constructors number 318 as part of contract C-78 as a PBY-5 / Catalina IIA. Assigned Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) registration 9718 on October 21, 1941. On November 15, 1941 assigned to the Royal Air Force (RAF).
On March 18, 1942, ferried overseas to Saunders Roe, Beaumaris, Anglesey Island off the northwest coast of Wales. On April 2, 1942 departed for Scottish Aviation at Greenock, Scotland and afterwards returned to Beaumaris.
On June 15, 1942 departed for Lough Erne, North Ireland. Assigned to 240 Squadron preparing to deploy in the Far East and and registration changed to VA718 and assigned squadron code "K". Assigned to pilot P/O Park who nicknamed the Catalina "Katie" since the squadron code was "K".
Ferried overseas to India, this Catalina operated from many locations including Red Hills Lake (Madras), Coconada, Cochin, Koggala, Addu Atoll, Kelaa Atoll, Diego Garcia and China Bay.
During the night of September 15-16, 1944 took off from Red Hills Lake Seaplane Base near Madras, India on an 8 1/2 hour flight bound for Kelaa Seaplane Base (Kelai) in northern Maldive Islands to refuel. During a storm, the refueling bowser sank, forcing this Catalina to fly another two hours further to Diego Garcia, while searching for a reported Japanese submarine.
Lost, the crew sent a QDM message by hand, and then held down the key so that the radio operators could get a fix and give them directions to Diego Garcia. After successfully landing in the lagoon, the the engines cut due to fuel starvation as they were taxing to the mooring buoy.
Out of fuel, riding high on the water, a storm that night of cyclone strength, and sprung the aircraft from its mooring buoy, causing it to drift and ground on the eastern side of the lagoon near Pointe de'lEst. None of the crew were injured. The next morning, as much equipment as possible was salvaged from the Catalina including the eight day clock, cases, life rafts, life jackets, parachutes and stove.
The crew waited on
Diego Garcia until September 25, when Catalina VA720 arrived from Madras with S/L Parry who inspected the wreckage and determined it a total loss. Taking the crew aboard, they flew to Addu Atoll then to
Koggala, Ceylon and then back to base at Redhills Lake in Madras two days later.
Abandoned, waves pushed the wreck ashore and the engines and more equipment was removed, and at one point in 1945, a swastika was spray painted over the RAF roundel. Today, the shell of the aircraft remains on the east side of Diego Garcia next to the coconut plantation.
The Story of "Katie" Jim Park's Catalina
Consolidated PBY Catalina: the peacetime record page 226
Peak of Limuria The Story of Diego Garcia pages 70-71
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February 4, 2018