Here's What Remains of Lady Be Good, A B-24 Liberator Lost in the Desert for Decades

Lady Be Good 17 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk
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Don't ever say there's no such thing as an excellent lost and found story anymore. Unlike something like the holy grail or the arc of the covenant, long-lost military planes pop up more frequently than you might think.
Don't believe us? Let us introduce you to Lady Be Good, a U.S. Army Air Force B-24 Liberator strategic bomber that performed a vanishing act that a professional magician would applaud. On one fateful routine bombing mission over the Mediterranean sea to Naples, Italy, via a base in Libya, the Lady Be Good vanished without a trace.

The story of the bomber and its crew baffled search and rescue parties for years after the fateful flight. By the time the wreckage was found, the war had long since ceased. Happened upon by chance by a British Petroleum expedition. The story of how this state-of-the-art American strategic bomber vanished along with its crew is now one of the countless unbelievable tales to come from mankind's most bloody conflict.

The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was one of the most effective strategic bombers of the war. Performing admirably alongside some legendary company in the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortresses. But no one, including the flight crew of the Lady Be Good, could have anticipated that their B-24D variant was never going to make it back home, let alone tell quite such a fascinating story when it was, in fact, found.

It was supposed to be just an ordinary bombing mission. The Lady Be Good took off from a Benghazi, Libya airfield at 2:15 pm on April the 4th, 1943. The plan was to bomb the Italian port of Naples in a two-wave assault, of which Lady Be Good was part of the second wave. The bomber was one of the last aircraft of this second wave to depart the bombing target and head back to base at Soluch airfield in Benghazi.

Lady Be Good
Photo: American Airpower Museum
Bad weather conditions and poor visibility hampered the crew of Lady Be Good upon their arrival in Naples at around 7:50 pm. The crew of the B-24 decided to attack an alternative target before returning in the general direction of Soluch field. One popular theory is that the confusion of the pitch-black midnight sky obscured Soluch field's home airbase's red landing flare lights. Causing it to venture well off course into the Sahara Desert.

The crew continued flying for two hours before the lack of fuel forced them to bail out. Amazingly, the plane continued to fly abandoned for a further 26 kilometers (16 miles) before crashing into a section of the Libyan desert known as the Calancsio Sand Sea. Rescue crews searched frantically for the missing bomber. But the assumption that the Lady Be Good had crashed at sea caused search and rescue teams to look in the exact opposite direction of the eventual crash site location.

Fifteen long years came and passed. Meanwhile, the loved ones of the crew of the stricken bomber only had a few corresponding letters from the U.S Army Air Corps informing them of their MIA status as an indicator of their eventual fate. On November the 9th, 1953, the wreckage of the Lady Be Good was found quite accidentally by a British Petroleum expedition staking out the local area for oil drilling facility viability in the region.

No attempt was made at an investigation after the first sighting, as there were no records of any significant loss of crew incidents in the area at that time. Only on February the 27th 1959 did British oil surveyor Gordon Bowerman and British geologists Donald Sheridan and John Martin spotted the wreckage 440 miles southeast of Soluch Airbase.

Lady Be Good
Photo: American Airpower Museum
All evidence pointed to the crew had bailed out several miles behind where the aircraft came to rest. It would take a further year to find what was identified as the remains of five of the crewmembers. The pilot, Lt. William Hatton, 2nd Lt. Robert F. Toner, Hays, T/S Robert E. LaMotte, and S/Sgt Robert E. Adams.

The Remains of S/Sgt Guy E. Shelley were found on May the 12th, 1960, 34 miles northwest of the five original bodies. The decomposed remains of T/Sgt Harold J. Ripslinger were discovered on May the 17th, 1960, located 42 km (26 mi) northwest of Shelley's body. Finally, the remains he remains of 2nd Lt John S. Woravka turned up in August 1960. The body of S/Sgt Vernon L. Moore has never been found.

Today, bits and pieces of the plane are in museums across America. Including the largest Military Aerospace Museum in the world, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. But also at smaller venues like the American Airpower Museum, on the site of the former Republic Aviation factory in Long Island, New York. Bits and pieces included at Airpower include fabrics from the aircraft's control surfaces, small pieces of parachutes, and pieces of engine debris from one of the four radial engines.

Most touching is a series of letters and telegrams from the Western Union and the U.S Army meant for members of the crew's loved ones. Dating from the first news of their disappearance until their eventual discovery a decade and a half later. Of all the wonderful exhibits at the Airpower Museum, the Lady Be Good's has to be the most emotionally evoking.

Lady Be Good
Photo: American Airpower Museum
It's a story of a crew of men sent to their dooms who, even after crashing into the Sahara Desert, managed to hike their way for miles with only a little food and water. They may have met their deaths in those sands, but their bravery will last for ages longer, thanks to museum pieces like this one.
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