After the atomic bombs were dropped, but before a Japanese surrender had been negotiated, V Bomber Command was busy moving troops and equipment to Okinawa. The 22nd and 43rd bomb groups were also enlisted to ferry troops, as all the C-46s and C-47s were already in use. While the B-24’s potential as a troop carrier may have looked good on paper, the logistics behind turning these bombers into transport aircraft subjected passengers to a potentially deadly situation. The ideal location for extra passengers would have been closer to the tail of the aircraft, but that would make the plane much more difficult to fly. Instead, passengers had to ride on precarious wooden seats installed in the bomb bay.
The 11th Airborne Division was selected to drop onto Atsugi Airdrome as part of the Army of Occupation if the Japanese were to surrender. First, though, they had to be moved from Luzon to Okinawa. Ten B-24s from the 22nd Bomb Group were sent down to Luzon for the move. The 11th Airborne Division was spread out among four airfields, and the 22nd would transport the 511th Regiment waiting at Lipa, located south of Manila. Each of the B-24s were loaded with 20 paratroopers and their equipment and rumbled down the runway one at a time. The first dozen took off without incident. LADY LUCK did not.
Captain Jack L. Cook didn’t notice any issues with the aircraft as he taxied to the runway. The #1 engine took longer to reach full power, which was unusual. Still, LADY LUCK reached takeoff speed and Cook attempted to lift the nose off the runway, only to feel a huge amount of drag that kept the nose on the ground. He was very quickly running out of runway and still couldn’t lift off. After hitting a small tree at the end of the runway, Cook noticed the airplane gaining speed and hoped once again that he could take off.
In a split second, that hope was dashed to pieces when the right wheel struck a ramp 100 feet beyond the official end of the runway. The landing gear was driven through the wing and fuel line, subsequently setting LADY LUCK on fire. What remained of the fuselage was broken into pieces. None of the men in the cockpit had serious injuries and all were able to climb out of it. The fire in the fuselage would kill 11 of the paratroopers on board. Three more would have died if not for the heroic efforts of Lt. Hoadly G. Ryan, who ran into the burning plane twice to rescue whoever he could. Others followed his example and saved a few more lives.
As for the cause of the crash, Cook first suspected the runway was too short. The day after the accident, he and his co-pilot went back to the scene and noticed two parallel black lines going down the runway. Both of them immediately knew that the brakes must have locked on and kept LADY LUCK from gaining sufficient speed to take off. How or why that happened remains a mystery.
Read this story in our book Revenge of the Red Raiders.