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  CA-9 Wirraway Serial Number A20-480 Code QE-V
4 Squadron

Former Assignments
1 AD
12 RSU

Click For Enlargement
RAAF 1999

Pilot  F/L Denis Jack Unkles, 408766 (MIA / KIA) Sale, VIC
Observer  Lt. John Rawden Fetherstonehaugh, VX20171 (MIA / KIA) Coleraine, VIC

Crashed  April 15, 1944

Aircraft History
Built by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC). Constructors Number 681.

Wartime History
On December 20, 1941 assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to 1 Air Depot (1 AD). On December 24, 1941 a presentation plaque "Spirit of Illawarra" was attached to the aircraft, in honor of Illawarra, New South Wales.

On March 5, 1942 took off piloted by P/O R. H. Drabsch. During the flight, the engine was running slow due to a flooded carburetor. After landing at Fairbairn Airfield (Canberra Airport) the exhaust ignited the excess fuel, causing a fire that damaged the starboard fabric panel and burned the forearm of observer Sgt B. H. Smith, 8603. Afterwards, repaired by 1 AD. Assigned to 12 RSU then to 4 Squadron operating from Gusap Airfield. Assigned code QE-V. No known nickname or nose art.

On February 26, 1944 while taxing the dispersal area at Gusap Airfield, pilot F/O J. Ahern, 426817 hitting a fuel dolly, damaging the air screw. Afterwards, this aircraft was repaired by the Squadron.

Mission History
On April 15, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield at 7:55am on a operational tactical reconnaissance over Japanese occupied areas near Wantoat. Aboard was observer Fetherstonehaugh from the 45 Air Liaison Unit, Australian Headquarters, AIF. After takeoff, the plane was never seen again and declared Missing In Action (MIA). In fact, this Wirraway crashed into in a hillside in the Finisterres Mountains. After the crash, nearby villager trekked to the crash site and buried the crew next to the aircraft.

During 1998, American anthropologist, Dr. Will Betz was told about aircraft wreckage in the Finisterres Mountains near Kewieng village at an elevation of 2,300m. Later, the crash site was visited by Richard Leahy and Dr. Will Betz and identified as Wirraway A20-480. Villagers remember burying the remains of the crew at the crash site, including one man who was a boy at the time of the crash. The villagers claimed the plane was "perused by a Japanese fighter causing it to crash".

Recovery of Remains
In October 1998, a RAAF Forensic Recovery Team "Operation Kewieng" visited the crash site and conducted a survey and excavation that resulted in the recovery of both crew members.

Both were officially declared dead the day of the mission. After the recovery of remains, both were buried with full military honors at Lae War Cemetery on January 13, 1999. Unkles at NN. C. 13. Fetherstonehaugh at NN. C. 12.

ADF Health "Recovery of Australian service personnel missing in action from World War II' (April 2000) pp 51-52
"Dr Betz, an American anthropologist, was informed of a crashed aircraft by Papua New Guineans from the village of Kewieng, about 90km north-west of Lae at about 2300m elevation in the Finisterre Range. An expatriate Australian, Mr Richard Leahy, attended the site with Dr Betz, and iden- tified the aircraft as an RAAF Wirraway A20-480. According to villagers, the two occupants of the aircraft had been removed from the wreckage, and buried beside the aircraft shortly after the crash.
In October 1998, the Forensic Recovery Team was flown to a base camp which had been constructed with the assistance of Kewieng villagers. The crash site was surveyed and a 1,520m grid was plotted. Although a landowner had been present at the burial of the aircraft occupants, and claimed to know the exact location of the graves, comprehensive excavation of this grid square down to 1.8 m failed to locate any human remains.
At this level, a further layer of topsoil was found and it was concluded that a landslide had occurred some time after the crash, and that the aircraft had probably slipped down the mountainside. Further deep excavation higher up the mountain revealed fragments of canopy perspex and aircraft wreckage at a level of 1.8m. Fragments of human remains were eventually located below this level and under the aircraft.
The remains of the aircraft pilot and observer were positively identified from their antemortem dental records. The remains were buried at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Lae in the presence of relatives."
ADF Serials - Wirraway A20-480
CWGC - Dennis Jack Unkles
CWGC - John Rawden Fetherstone
RAAFDB - Wirraway A20-480
RAAFDB - Dennis Jack Unkles
Thanks to Dr. Will Betz and Richard Leahy for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018


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