On the afternoon of April 4, 1943, the B-24 bomber 'Lady Be Good' (LBG) took off from Soluch Airstrip in Libya, along with 24 other planes, on a mission to bomb the port at Naples, Italy. The estimated time for the mission was nine hours round trip, and the planes had enough fuel for twelve hours of flight time.
Due to strong winds and sandstorms, the planes were forced to take off in small groups. The LBG was one of the last to leave, in a group with two other planes. But these two planes had gotten sand in their engines while taking off and had to turn back, leaving the LBG alone and well behind the other planes.
The crew had to make constant course corrections along the route, due to strong winds, and fell even further behind the other planes. The planes could not communicate with each other by radio, for fear of attracting Nazi fighter planes. By the time the LBG reached the vicinity of the target, the other planes had already dropped their bombs and were on their way back home. Rather than drop its bombs alone, the LBG headed for home and dropped its bombs into the sea along the way.
On its way back, the aircraft sent a coded message asking for a directional bearing to Soluch, and was sent one, but after that the plane was not heard from again. An extensive sea search and limited land search were undertaken, but the plane and its crew of nine could not be found. It had been the crew's first combat mission.
The crew members of the 'Lady Be Good' were:
In May of 1958, fifteen years after the LBG disappeared, some aircraft wreckage was spotted from the air by a British oil exploration crew while they were looking for oil deep in the Libyan desert. A ground team subsequently visited the crash site and identified the wreckage as being that of the LBG. The aircraft was located about 440 miles (708 km) south of its intended destination. It is not known for sure how the plane ended up so far off course, but it is thought that the plane did not receive, or else misread, the directional bearing that had been sent to it and became lost in the darkness, crossing over the Libyan coast and continuing on into the desert until it ran out of fuel.
The plane eventually crash landed, skidding a considerable distance before finally coming to rest. The aircraft had broken apart just behind the wings, but was otherwise in very good condition, well preserved by the dry desert air. A machine gun and a radio discovered in the wreckage were found to be in perfect working order. It was assumed that the crew must have parachuted from the plane shortly before the crash, since the rear escape hatch and bomb bay doors were open and no parachutes were found. No sign of the crew was found anywhere near the wreckage.
In May of 1959, a year after the wreckage was discovered, a small team was sent to Libya by the
But in February of 1960, another British oil exploration team found the remains of five of the crewmen from the LBG on a desert plateau, at a distance of 85 miles (137 km) north of the crash site. The remains were found grouped closely together and nearby were pieces of equipment and personal effects. Among the effects was a diary, kept by Lt. Robert Toner, and the entries in the diary for April 5 through 12, 1943, told a story of true courage and heroism.
According to the diary, the crew bailed out of the aircraft at 2 AM on April 5. Eight of the crew members assembled in the darkness after reaching the ground, but there was no sign of the ninth crewman, Lt. John Woravka. The eight men, with only half a canteen of water to share between them, then travelled to the site where the remains were found, despite temperatures that would have reached up to 130 degrees F (54 C). At that point, crewmen Hatton, Toner, Hays, Adams and LaMotte could not continue due to exhaustion and remained behind, while crewmen Shelley, Moore and Ripslinger continued on in search of help.
After the remains of the five crewmen were discovered, the Army and Air Force launched an extensive joint effort, called Operation Climax, to locate the remaining four crewmen. Numerous ground vehicles, helicopters and reconnaissance fighters were used in the operation.
On May 12, 1960, some British oil workers discovered the remains of crewman Guy E. Shelley. He was found 21 miles (34 km) northwest of the site where the first five crewmen were found. And then five days later, a helicopter from Operation Climax discovered the remains of crewman Harold J. Ripslinger an additional 26 miles (42 km) north of crewman Shelley. He was found in an area dotted with sand dunes up to 600 feet high, and at an amazing distance of 132 miles (212 km) from the original crash site. In late May of 1960 Operation Climax was concluded, without finding the remaining two missing airmen.
The remains of airman John S. Woravka, the crewman who had failed to meet up with the other eight men after bailout, were found in August, 1960, by another British oil team, about 16 miles (26 km) northwest of the crash site. He was in his flight suit and his parachute was still attached, indicating that the parachute had failed to open properly and that he probably died upon impact with the ground. During the recovery of airman Woravka's remains, a pile of discarded parachute harnesses and flight clothing was found about a half mile to the southwest, indicating that this was the spot where the other eight crewmen had met up after bailout. If only the crewmen had been able to find their way to the crash site, 16 miles to the southeast of their gathering point, they would have been able to radio for help.
The remains of the ninth airman, Staff Sgt. V.L. Moore, have never been found.
Through the years various items from the LBG crash site were distributed to museums and schools throughout the world. Souvenirs were also taken from the site by search party members and oil exploration teams. The aircraft had been largely stripped down to its frame by the time the Libyan government, in 1994, finally removed the last of the aircraft remains from the desert and placed them in storage.