Missing World War II bomber and crew found

Royal Australian Air Force has positively identified a 100 Squadron World War II Beaufort aircraft (A9-186), first reported missing in 1943 along with its four crew members.

FILE PHOTOFour RAAF 100 Squadron Beaufort Bombers head for Wewak, North New Guinea, in 1945. Photo provided by the Australian War Memorial / OG3365

The aircraft was recently discovered after a challenging mission in the waters south of Gasmata, Papua New Guinea.

Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman confirmed the identification of the crash site, which was discovered in 2020.

The discovery was made by an Ocean Ecology Pty Ltd dive team working for Andrew Forrest as part of an ongoing search for his uncle, Flying Officer David Forrest, who was lost during a mission to Gasmata while piloting a similar RAAF 100 Squadron Beaufort.

In February 2022, Dr Forrest’s team returned to the crash site to identify the aircraft.

Two members of the RAAF Directorate of Historical Unrecovered War Casualties (HUWC) accompanied them to provide historical aviation expertise and support.

The A9-186 wreck site is located in 43 metres of water, which meant identifying the remains of the aircraft after 79 years took considerable time, effort and teamwork.

CAPTIONDive-monitoring equipment used during the investigation of the wreck of A9-186. Photo by Wing Commander Grant Kelly.

Specialist divers worked on an aircraft that was extensively damaged by fire and covered in layers of sediment and marine growth.

The aircraft identity plate and cockpit lever, which were recovered from the site, will be returned to Australia under a permit granted by the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.

Air Marshal Chipman said small amounts of bone material recovered during the identification mission were analysed by anthropologists and DNA specialists.

“The RAAF’s HUWC team collated the evidence and a Defence Identification Board identified the remains as those of Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins and Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg,” Air Marshal Chipman said

“Unfortunately, it’s with a heavy heart we can confirm that no remains of the other two crew members, Flight Sergeant Albert Beckett and Flight Sergeant Gordon Lewis Hamilton, were recovered.

“We will continue to strive to find, recover and identify our missing service personnel as part of our commitment to honouring their service and sacrifice for our nation.”

CAPTIONThe Historic Unrecovered War Casualties – Air Force team worked to sort and inspect large items recovered from the wreck of A9-186. Photo by Wing Commander Grant Kelly.

Dr Forrest said the sacrifices those young men and women made must never be forgotten.

“They had their entire lives ahead of them yet were prepared to risk it all to defend our country and our way of life,” he said.

Air Marshal Chipman said that no further recovery was planned for the “challenging” crash site.

“A memorial service for the families of all four crew is being planned for 26 April at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland,” he said.

“Thank you to all those involved in this significant mission.

“It is especially heart-warming for the families of the four aviators involved to finally know what happened and learn of their final resting place.”

The crew of 100 Squadron Beaufort A9-186:

  • Warrant Officer Clement Batstone Wiggins: Born in Gatton, Queensland, he worked as a school teacher before enlisting in Brisbane in March 1941. Warrant Officer Wiggins was 28 when killed in action.
  • Warrant Officer Russell Henry Grigg: Born in Brisbane, Queensland, he worked as a fruit grower before enlisting in Brisbane in March 1941. Warrant Officer Grigg was 34 when killed in action.
  • Flight Sergeant Albert Beckett: Born in Launceston, Tasmania, he worked as a builder’s apprentice (carpenter) before enlisting in Tasmania in November 1941. Flight Sergeant Beckett was 22 when killed in action.
  • Flight Sergeant Gordon Lewis Hamilton: Born in Brisbane, Queensland, he worked as a baker’s assistant before enlisting in Brisbane in July 1941. Flight Sergeant Hamilton was 26 when killed in action.


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