B-26 Accident at Iron Range

After a successful strike on Lae on September 13, 1942, the 19th Squadron stopped over at Port Moresby to refuel before heading back to their base at Iron Range, Australia. It was a new camp, just hacked out of the Queensland rainforest, and very primitive, lacking many of the more comfortable aspects that the men had gotten used to at other Australian bases.


The trip from Port Moresby to Iron Range was uneventful and Capt. Walter A. Krell lined up his B-26, KANSAS COMET #2, for landing on the new runway at Iron Range. He planned on landing short, then taxiing off at the midpoint so the rest of the formation could land behind him. Without a landing threshold in place, though, he instead touched down on the overrun at the end of the strip. Unseen from the air was a large termite mound that was not cleared away by the engineers. The termite mound broke off the B-26’s right landing gear and strut, causing the plane to slide down the runway completely out of control. Abruptly veering right, it crashed into a compressor truck parked next to the runway.

Man next to termite mound
Here, a member of the 63rd Squadron inspects one of the giant termite mounds found near their camp at Mareeba. The mounds contained a veritable termite city encased in a concrete-hard structure, approximately ten feet high. This is the sort of mound Krell’s B-26 hit while trying to land at Iron Range. (Charles R. Woods Collection)


On impact, the fuselage cracked in half, then both the truck and the plane burst into flames. Krell was briefly knocked unconscious, but revived in a smoke-filled cockpit. His friend and co-pilot, F/O Graham B. Robertson, was pinned in his seat. Krell extracted himself from the plane and ran around to the other side to try and free the unresponsive Robertson. The rest of the crew was able to exit through a gaping hole in the fuselage and Krell climbed in, shifting debris in an effort to free his friend. Soon, the heat and smoke from the flames were unbearable. Ammunition from the bombardier’s compartment was also cooking off, making it took dangerous for the burned Krell to stay any longer.


He climbed out of the cockpit and everyone moved away from the burning B-26 in case of an explosion. The crew’s injuries were tended to by several flight surgeons from different units in the area. Thankfully, the plane never exploded. The wreckage was finally cool enough to go through around midnight and the dead bodies of both Robertson and the truck driver were removed. Back at a field hospital, Krell, who was recovering from his burns, was heard calling, “Hold on! I’ll get you out!” After three days in the field hospital, he was sent to Townsville for further treatment. It was months before he resumed his duties. The rest of his crew suffered permanent injuries from the accident.

This story can be found in Revenge of the Red Raiders.