On Sunday 18 July 2021, the Royal Australian Airforce conducted a Memorial Service at the Catalina Memorial on the Cairns Esplanade for the families of the 10 crew members of the RAAF No. 11 Squadron, Catalina A24-50 who perished on a wartime mission 78 years ago.
Cairns RSL Sub Branch Director, Mr. Neil Turnbull attended and laid a wreath on behalf of the Cairns RSL Sub Branch at the Commemorative Service and Plaque Unveiling, honoring the crew of the No. 11 Squadron. The Defence Minister the Hon Peter Dutton MP attended the service and gave the Commemorative Address.
The Catalina Flying Boat was one of the most versatile aircraft of the Second World War. The Catalina Aircraft stationed in Cairns was used from late 1942 by No.11 Squadron to fly long-range missions against Japanese shipping and submarines.
On 2 September 1943, No. 11 Squadron left Cairns on a Sea Mining Operation in Sorong Harbour in Japanese occupied Dutch New Guinea. The Aircraft is believed to have crashed into mountainous terrain in Papua. After failing to return by 5 pm on 3 September 1943, the Catalina was declared missing.
All 10 crew members lost their lives when the aircraft crashed and any subsequent searches failed to locate any evidence of the aircraft or its crew.
In memory of the Crew of the Catalina A24-50
Flying Officer James Percival Oliver
Flying Officer Edward Carrington Smith
Flying Officer John Walker Bissett Amess
Pilot Officer Edward Matthew Howe
Pilot Officer Athol Stewart Boyd
Flight Sergeant Richard George Hobbs
Sergeant Melville Beckman Tyrrell
Corporal Alexander Burns
Corporal Ian Lott Penrose
Leading Aircraftman Alexander Headley Crouch
The crash site was finally located in Fakfak in Papua Indonesia in April 2018 by local forestry workers. The Australian and Indonesian Military personnel and staff worked closely to secure access to the site in support of the Catalina’s recovery.
In July 2019, the RAAF began recovery efforts of the aircraft wreckage, an Airforce team from Historic Unrecovered War Casualties, in cooperation with the Indonesian National Armed Forces, conducted a mission to the site to search for evidence of the crew and their possible final resting place. The Deputy Director of Historic Unrecovered War Casualties Wing Commander Grant Kelly was among those involved in the recovery and said that, unlike many crash sites he had seen, he was amazed to see the Catalina site still had large pieces of the aircraft, including its wings and engines, remaining after all this time. “[They] were recognisable and just made it so much more evocative and real,” WGCDR Kelly told the ABC. Artifacts of the plane, including its fin with the serial number still visible, have been returned to Australia, to be placed in the Australian War Memorial.