The Home Pond B-24
by Frank Tibbo
A B-24M crashed between Home Pond and Indian Bay Pond. Rumours abound of money on board the bomber and what happened to it.
The B-24M, belonging to the United States Army Air Force, number 44-42169, whose destination was Gander crashed on February 14, 1945. The wreckage was found 25 km northeast of Gander by a fellow who was checking his rabbit slips. The official reports call him a local Newfoundland trapper.
The weather was a major reason for the crash as indicated in the report: “Col. Dolan's aircraft, missing since approximately 0200 GMT, when it was attempting an instrument approach to this field despite warnings to turn back because of existing weather conditions, was discovered in exploded fragments about 15 miles northeast of the station.”
As usual the Americans and Canadians put everything in the air as soon as weather permitted. Nothing was found on the first day, or the second. One week passed – nothing. Another week – the same thing. The planes belonging to the United States Army Air Force kept searching despite the fact that the winter conditions precluded the hope that anyone would be found alive.
The following is from the accident report:
A trapper was told of the probable aircraft catastrophe by the villagers. Having seen what appeared to be a portion of a parachute shroud in a tree during his hunting trip, returned to the area with his dog team the following day and came upon wreckage of the airplane strewn for hundreds of feet through trees and deep snow. His attempt to make his way to Gander to notify military authorities failed when his team of huskies gave out from fatigue acquired during the previous 18 days on the trail. However, the woodsman managed to reach the village of Benton where he contacted the station agent, Mike Hogan. Hogan wired the RCAF at Gander and the Canadian authorities in turn notified the Commanding Officer of the 1387th AAF base unit on 16 March, 1945.
Mr. Rybert Gillingham of Victoria Cove was working for the Americans in Gander at the time and was sent to the crash along with Hugh Pelley and some U.S. military personnel to recover the bodies. They slept in a temporary shelter that they erected on the site and used sleeping bags and food that they had been supplied with. It took them five or six days to complete the work. When they were finished, the group walked to Home Pond where they were brought out by a small plane.
An article written for a local magazine raised a few eyebrows:
A rumour sprang up on this base that Col. Dolan had over a quarter of a million dollars aboard his B-24M and that this was the reason for the long search that ensued after he was labelled missing. This rumour was heard expressed in mess hall no. 2 by a group of unidentified enlisted men. It is believed the source of the speculation lay in conversations among Newfoundlanders who had been discussing the anxiety of military authorities to find the missing airplane.
Mr. Rybert Gillingham read my column of September 2001 and kindly supplied me with a copy of the following letter:
HEADQUARTERS, 1387TH AAF BASE UNIT
NORTH ATLANTIC DIVISION, ATC
APO B65, c/o POSTMASTER
NEW YORK CITY
15 April 1945
SUBJECT: Appreciation of Service Performance.
Mr. Rybert Gillingham,
c/o Post Engineers,
During the month of February an aircraft inbound to this station was lost and, as was subsequently proved, crashed within a dozen miles of the station, being completely demolished with the loss of all lives on board. After a fruitless air and ground search, extending over several weeks, the wreckage was finally located and reported by Newfoundland trappers.
The several expeditions that made their way to the highly inaccessible site of the crash were able to locate all bodies, recover essential papers, and destroy classified material.
You, as a member of these expeditions are to be commended for the highly successful completion of an arduous and distasteful task. The eagerness with which the mission was inaugurated, the thoroughness with which it was conducted, and the untiring efforts exerted throughout, are exemplary of the highest ideals of the service. This work was not as spectacular as the heroic rescue of wounded men under fire, but to my mind it indicates that our men would not be found wanting under any contingency of war, when tasks above and beyond the normal call of duty are to be performed.
A copy of this communication will be placed in your 201 file.
Ronald G, McLaughlin
Lt. Colonel, Air Corps,
There was no report as to whether the money or Col. Dolan were ever found, or what he would be doing with such an amount of money. It has been well documented that military aircraft, at various times, carried large sums of money to finance various covert operations.
Submitted by F. Tibbo