Unsolved

In late March 1943 fifty-one year old baker Rigas Carsas and thirty-six year old engineer Roy Clarke, both from the nearby sugar milling town of South Johnstone, were fishing at night near the mouth of Liverpool Creek in North Queensland when they noticed a bright flash in the sky.[1]

 

This was sometime between March 20th and 26th, Carsas later recalling that the weather was very bad with a strong south-easterly wind and heavy overcast. Neither man knew what had caused the flash, and nor had they heard an explosion.[2]

A few days later, Carsas was again fishing near the mouth of Liverpool Creek, when he saw ‘three canvas bags which were securely closed, and some three or four chains away, I saw the bodies of four American airmen. The canvas bags and the bodies were on the creek bank, just above high tide mark.’[3]

His companion on that occasion was fifty-one year-old local farmer Peter Danelchenko who immediately set off to inform the nearest policeman at Innisfail some twenty-seven kilometers to the north, and later that day four American air force officers visited the scene… ‘These American officers took possession of the bodies from the creek bank, and also the canvas bags. They told me that the canvas bags contained mail for the troops in New Guinea. They also told me that one of their air craft [sic] was missing and this machine had a personnel of seven men and a nurse, and was carrying mail and the pay-roll for the troops in New Guinea.’

Liverpool Creek (mid-frame left) and the Barnard Islands (bottom center) photographed from 25,000 feet on 28th June 1994 (QImagery File QAP5249, Frame 163).

North Queensland residents were accustomed then to the sight and sound of transiting military aircraft, dozens of which disappeared offshore – and onshore – without trace. For national security reasons however, these losses were never publicised.

For the next ten years Carsas remained deeply affected by what he had witnessed, these feelings persisting until late 1952 when a seemingly unrelated incident firmed his resolve to do something about it…

‘About a week before Christmas 1952, I was fishing from a small boat between the South Benard Islands [sic] and King’s Reef [sic], about three quarters of a mile or a mile from King’s Reef, and about 2 to 2½ miles from the South Benard Islands.[4] The water at that particular spot would be about 80 feet deep. An aboriginal named “Black Paddy”, who lives at Murdering Point, near Silkwood, was fishing from another boat, about two or three chains away from me, when he called out to me and told me that he had hooked up on a piece of aeroplane. I called out to “Black Paddy” and told him to take particular notice of landmarks, so that we could come back to the spot again. After some time, I returned to the beach at Murdering Point and “Black Paddy” did likewise. I then saw a wire cable about 15 feet in length and about as thick as an ordinary clothesline. The cable was very much rusted in places, and after making an examination of it, I was of the opinion it was a cable from an aeroplane. I did not take possession of the cable and I am unable to say what “Black Paddy” did with it. I did not report the matter at that time, as I was not certain that “Black Paddy” or myself could return to the spot where the cable had been brought out of the sea.

On 31st January 1953, I was at Murdering Point, when “Black Paddy” told me that he had been back to the spot where he had hooked up the aeroplane cable, and had hooked up a part of the door of an aeroplane. “Black Paddy” did not tell me what he did with the part of the door from the aeroplane and I did not ask him.’[5]

 

A few days after the discovery of this submerged wreckage, Carsas reported the matter to Innisfail’s Stipendiary Magistrate Mr E J Pearce who, in turn, caused local police to undertake further investigations…

‘On Friday, 6th February 1953, I accompanied police to Innisfail, where I went on a motor launch, which was in charge of Mr Shearsmith, the pilot from Flying Fish Point. I told Mr Shearsmith that I wished to go to Murdering Point to pick up “Black Paddy” who could return to the spot, where the aeroplane parts had been hooked from the sea. Mr Shearsmith said he would not go to Murdering Point, he was only going to the South Benard Islands. I then decided to get off the launch and travel to Murdering Point by road to pick up “Black Paddy”, after which I would proceed to the South Benard Islands in my own motor boat. On arriving at Murdering Point, I found “Black Paddy” and went to my motor boat, which was anchored in a small creek. On arriving at the boat, I found that the tide was too low to get it out of the creek into the sea. I then saw a man named Joe Borg, who owns a motor boat at Murdering Point, and asked him to take myself and “Black Paddy” to the South Benard Islands. Borg consented to do so. When we got in the vicinity of the South Benard islands, we saw the pilot launch from Flying Fish point heading back to Innisfail. We took a run around the South Benard islands, thinking the pilot launch may return but it did not do so, and we then returned to Murdering Point, after which I returned to my home at South Johnstone.

I am not certain that I can return to the spot where the aeroplane parts were hooked from the sea, but I am confident that “Black Paddy” can do so. It would have to be fine, clear weather before a successful attempt could be made to locate the sport, and landmarks on the coast have to be seen to pinpoint the spot.’

 

In his written statement to police at that time, Carsas described himself as a sixty-one year old mill greaser employed by the South Johnstone Co-operative Sugar milling Association Ltd. of South Johnstone.

Perhaps more than anyone else, he alone had tried – unsuccessfully – to solve the mystery of this wartime crash. Knowing that he had done everything reasonably possible might have delivered some personal satisfaction and yet there would always remain the gnawing suspicion that, just maybe, “Black Paddy” had found the cause of that flash he had seen in the night sky a decade earlier. Rigas Carsas died on 1st June 1961 having never learned the answer.

 


[1] Carsas is thought to have migrated from Spain, arriving in New South Wales on 12th October 1915. While the 1943 Herbert (encompassing South Johnstone) Electoral Roll does not record a ‘Roy Clarke’, it does show an Assistant Engineer named ‘Roy Donaldson Clark’ residing at South Johnstone.

[2] C-49 41-7694 disappeared a fortnight later while flying Townsville to Cooktown and later in the war, also in this vicinity, radar contact was lost with a Douglas A-20G Boston bomber (42-86748) of the United States Army Air Force’s 93rd Service. Flying direct from Rockhampton to Cairns in daylight, and with favourable weather, it was presumed to have crashed at sea. See Missing Air Crew Report number 14466, Record Group 92 (U.S. National Archives), https://catalog.archives.gov/id/91154760.

[3] “Liverpool Creek (offshore) – circa 20 Mar 1943 – possible aeroplane incident – canvas bags and 4 American Airmen’s bodies found,” Queensland State Archives, Agency Control Number 1861M/181, Item 2177830, 1, https://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/items/ITM2177830.

[4] Thought to refer to the Barnard Islands and king Reefs which are seven kilometers south-east, and east of the Liverpool Creek mouth, respectively.

[5] Written statement given by Rigas Carsas to Sergt. 2/c Alexander William Berghoffer at Innisfail Police Station on 7th February, 1953, Queensland State Archives, Agency Control Number 1861M/181, Item 2177830, 1, https://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/items/ITM2177830.