With questions still swirling around flight MH370, we wanted to look to aviation’s past to see if we could find accounts of similar incidents. We discovered the following story from the early days of WWII. It speaks of both courage and of the inherent risks involved in taking to the skies, no matter what era we live in.
The Lady Be Good: an Early Casualty of War
The first half of 1943 was a trying time for the US and her allies. The nation had been at war for less than six months, and was still gearing up its industrial might and manpower for a long, bitter struggle. One of the primary strategic targets in those days was the harbor in Naples, Italy, which the 376th Bomb Group flew a mission against on April 4th.
Among the planes that participated in the raid was the Lady Be Good, a USAAF B-24 D Liberator with a nine-man crew, each of whom had just arrived in Libya the week before. The ill-fated flight over Naples was their first mission together.
The mission was in trouble from the moment it began. High winds and sandstorms kept the Lady Be Good from joining with the rest of the group, so it continued towards Naples on its own. On the way back, pilot Lt. William Hatton from Whitestone, NY radioed his base, advising them that the plane’s directional finder wasn’t working.
Airfield personnel fired flares to attract the plane’s attention, but sandstorms made seeing them impossible. Flying blind and running low on fuel, the Lady Be Good overshot its destination and continued into the deadly North African desert. Its crew was never seen alive again.
Investigators at the time though that the plane had crashed into the Mediterranean Sea. But then on November 9, 1958, an oil exploration team from Britain spotted the wreckage of a B-24 D Liberator. On February 27 of 1959, oil surveyor Gordon Bowerman also saw the plane’s remains. In May of that year, a recovery team from Wheelus Air Base traveled to the site.
There, they found the Lady Be Good broken in two pieces but otherwise in remarkably good shape, with functioning weapons, intact radio, and food and water supplies. The nine-man crew, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. In February of 1960 the army launched an all-out search for their remains. They eventually found enough evidence in the desert’s vast waste to piece together a tragic story.
They Served Together Until the End
Knowing their plane was almost out of fuel, the crewmembers of the Lady Be Good bailed out. Eight made it safely to the ground; one, Lt. John Woravka, died when his parachute failed to deploy. It’s believed that his body is buried somewhere underneath the desert’s ever-shifting sands.
The other crew members found each other by firing their pistols in the air and following the sounds. Believing they were close to the Mediterranean, they set off in a northerly direction. In reality they were 400 miles inland. They had one canteen of water to share between them. Despite their best efforts, the hostile desert environment tool a horrific toll on their bodies over the next several days. By the eighth day, all of them had passed.
Over the years, various expeditionary teams have recovered many of the artifacts from the Lady Be Good. Some of these are in display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Many of the crew’s personal possessions are kept at the US Army Quartermaster Museum in Fort Lee, VA.
There’s one last, eerie part of the story that should be told. A few parts recovered from the Lady Be Good were reused in other military planes, some of which came to untimely ends afterwards. The most infamous incident occurred to a DHC-3 Otter that crashed in the Gulf of Sidra. It had received an armrest from the Lady Be Good. Of the entire craft, only a tiny handful of pieces from the Otter eventually washed up on shore. One of these was the armrest.