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Investigating the Puerto Galera WW2 crash site

B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberator

ED: It is the story of 12 Americans who died when their B-24 bomber airplane slammed on Mt. Malasimbo on December 7, 1944.
First heard of this from my co-worker Mario Lutz narrating a hiking adventure where they found a wreckage of a B-24 bomber airplane. Then, I got a flashback, remembering when I was young, sometime in the late 70s – a Mangyan telling my father about a wreckage of an airplane on Mt. Malasimbo.

Mario gave me a link to a website by Rick Kirkham, another foreign resident who went up the mountain to investigate the crash site of the B-24 Liberator, uncannily called “Who’s Next”.

Rick and another foreigner climbed 3000 feet to learn more about the crash site and honor the memory “of the young men above, who never got to see their loved ones again and died a lonely death on top of a foreign mountain.”

We got the permission from Rick to publish his blog. We have also added materials we have researched on the Internet.

— ooOoo —

Investigating the Crash Site of B-24 Liberator ‘Who’s Next’ – June 10, 2013 by Rick Kirkham

The crew of Who’s Next

Well I have had a hard introduction to the demands of finding airplane remains on a mountain. Our Iraya guides were great. They set a cracking pace and we had to stop every 600 vertical feet. Both I and my friend Drew are fit, but climbing so quickly from sea level, with high heat and humidity left us exhausted. The first 4 hours got us to 2200 ft altitude. Initially through light forest and coconut trees, but then onto a ridge with cogon grass. Drew was eaten alive by leeches which were everywhere; I had doused my socks, shoes and trousers with tobacco water (cigarettes in water) and was left alone (though, I was picking them off every few yards).

From the cogon ridge we then started the true climb. A near vertical climb through dense jungle. Sound of birds, insects and monkeys everywhere. No trail – our guides hacked the trees and brush as we started to climb up the mountain. The going was extremely hard with loose rocks and very precarious, traverses across the slope. Two hours hard climb got us to the site of the crash. We were so tired that after a quick bite to eat hanging off the side of the cliff, we started straight down. Got back to Talipanan having drunk 7 liters of water in the 10 hours climb. By far the hardest thing physically I have ever done.

Rick at the crash site
Rick at the crash site

‘Who’s Next’ hit on the steepest part of Mt. Malasimbo near a marble cliff. The slope is between 70 and 80 degrees. The last 250m of the climb is through dense rainforest, on a 75 degree slope with no trail. We had to hack our way through the jungle and into the cloud layer – no longer a hike as we were really climbing. Quite scary as lots of rotten wood to hold and loose rocks under foot. Rare orchids everywhere.

The plane slammed right into the cliff and it would have disintegrated upon impact. Over the years the debris has slipped down two small ravines. The largest parts of the aircraft remaining are two lower sections of the undercarriage. The rest of the remains are confined to melted wiring, odd scrap metal and Plexiglas – all less than 1 inch in size. They are not laying on the surface, but buried under the ground. There are recent signs of digging at the site as the local tribe the Iraya have over the years mined the site for scrap metal. These people are very poor and they hike 7 hours round trip to sell scrap for P10 a kilo. Very different from treasure/souvenir hunters who have taken parts for their own gain. The Iraya sold the scrap to survive. Children often live on nothing but rice and vegetables so I can’t condemn them for taking the metal. If there are remains on the site, then the Iraya will leave them where they find them.

Location Map
Location Map

The last GPS fix I was able to get gave our altitude at 2200ft. Once we climbed higher we were in the lee of the mountain and could not longer get a good fix. We estimate the wreck site is at between 2800 and 3000 ft and close to 13 27 N and 120 53 E.

So why did we do it ? In memory of the young men above, who never got to see their loved ones again and died a lonely death on top of a foreign mountain.

Editor’s Note: Below is a poem written by the brother of Co-Pilot O’Brien to honor the 12 airmen killed on 7 December 1944 when they crashed into Mt. Malasimbo while returning from a night mission to Clark Field in their B-24 named “Who’s Next?”

Who’s Next
by Al O’Brien, 10 April 1999

December seventh, nineteen hundred and forty four
A date of sorrow, (like that infamous one three years before)
For families of twelve Air Corps men
Who, while flying in the dead of night, and then
They were next
Their plane, with such a prophetic name
was a veteran, scarred, plying in this deadly game
Had traveled o’er the Pacific ocean wide
To now forgotten places, Owi, Tacloban, Anguar, Moratai
They were next
A bomber of the Forty Third Bomb Group,
A night flying Sixty Third Bomb Squad snoop
With the latest marvel – Radar – set up inside
Making it harder for our Japanese foes to hide
They were next
Who were these men; courageous, enduring this war, this ravage
the pilot who’s time was in, was named Tom Savage
Unselfishly, he choose to fly again so others of his crew
Could land at mission’s end and also say “I’m Through ”
They were next
The co-pilot, Jim O’Brien, I knew quite well
An Irish kid, my brother, and when he fell
our family, in deep sorrow, mourning, crying,
Asked, how could this happen? Bucky dying?
They were next
For our fight against Japan’s barbaric throng
We paid a price with Snyder, Schmidt, and Long;
Williams, Acker, Bowling, Desmond, Harrison, McKee, & Mathis
Complete this mission’s doleful, deadly list
They were next
Many of this veteran crew from all across our land
could have finished combat time: deliverance had been near at hand
But cruel fate raised its head and with a resounding “No”
For on that night they flew into Malasimbo
“They were next”

Pilot Jim O’Brien