1943 Liberator crash at Whenuapai

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1943 Liberator crash at Whenuapai
Consolidated B-24 artificial horizon.jpg
Gyro horizon from a B-24 Liberator
Date 2 August 1943
Summary Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)
Site New Zealand
Aircraft type Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express
Operator United Airlines
Registration 41-24027
Flight origin Whenuapai Aerodrome
Passengers 25
Crew 5
Fatalities 16
Survivors 14

The 1943 Liberator crash at Whenuapai was an aircraft accident in New Zealand during World War II.[1][2] TVNZ covered the crash during the program Secret New Zealand in 2003, and posited the accident was covered up, due to concerns of reprisals against POWs.[3]


The Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express aircraft, owned by the USAAF and operated using a United Airlines crew, was transferring Japanese men, women, and children of the Consular Corps, to exchange for Allied POWs.[4] On 2 August 1943, it took off from Whenuapai Aerodrome runway 04 at 2:20 am, with rain and fog conditions at minimums for departure, and quickly passed through low stratus. Captain Herschel Laughlin’s gyro horizon had inadvertently been left caged – while the instrument displayed level flight, the aircraft entered a steepening bank to the left.[4] The crew detected the problem in a few seconds, but as the aircraft was straightening up and levelling out, it hit the ground at about 322 km/h (200 mph), bounced a few times and exploded. The third bounce threw its first officer, R. John Wisda, out through the canopy; he rolled end over end about 100 metres (330 ft) through mud and reeds.[4] A medic later found him trying to keep warm near a burning tyre. The major factors of the accident were the lack of a pre-flight checklist, and crew fatigue (126 flying hours in the last 26 days).

The crash killed three of the five crew (United States nationals), and eleven of the twenty-five passengers (eight Japanese and three Thai nationals).[5] Two additional passengers died later from injuries.[4] TSS Wahine took the surviving internees from Wellington to Sydney three months later.[6][7][8]


  1. ^ "Airbus crash not on list of casualties". New Zealand Herald. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  2. ^ "August 1943 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports". Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  3. ^ Roscoe, Bruce (2007). Windows on Japan. Algora. p. 262. ISBN 0-87586-491-0. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d Livingstone, Bob (1998). Under the Southern Cross: The B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific. Turner. p. 115. ISBN 1-56311-432-1. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  5. ^ Mackay, Jamie. "Pearce, Edna Bertha 1906 - 1995". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Archived from the original on 5 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  6. ^ King, John (1995). Aviation Accidents and Disasters. New Zealand Tragedies. Wellington: Grantham House. p. 136. ISBN 1-86934-042-6. 
  7. ^ Bevan, E. Denys (4 November 1991). "Liberator: The Facts". The Listener. 
  8. ^ Sim, J. W. (November 1988). "Letter". New Zealand Wings.