Lady Be Good was an American B-24D Liberator of the
United States Army Air Forces, serial number 41-24301,
during World War II. Based at Benina Airfield in Soluch
(today Suluq), Libya, it crashed in April 1943 returning
from a mission and was later discovered in 1959 hundreds of
miles into the Sahara with its crew mysteriously missing.
Following an April 4, 1943 bombing raid on Naples, Italy,
conducted by the 376th Bomb Group, the Lady Be Good of the
514th Bomb Squadron failed to return to base. After attempts
to locate the plane in Libya, its nine crewmen were
classified as Missing in action, and presumed dead, believed
to have perished after crashing in the Mediterranean Sea.
The crew of Lady Be Good were on their first combat mission,
having arrived in Libya on March 18. The aircraft itself was
also new, reaching the 376th BG on March 25. The ship had
the identification number 64 painted on its nose and was one
of 25 assigned to bomb Naples late in the afternoon of April
The members of the Lady Be Good crew were:
* 1st Lt. William J. Hatton - pilot - Whitestone, New York
* 2nd Lt. Robert F. Toner - co-pilot - North Attleborough,
* 2d Lt. D.P. (initials only, also seen as 'Dp') Hays -
navigator - Lee's Summit, Missouri
* 2d Lt. John S. Woravka - bombardier - Cleveland, Ohio
* T/Sgt. Harold J. Ripslinger - flight engineer - Saginaw,
* T/Sgt. Robert E. LaMotte - radio operator - Lake Linden,
* S/Sgt. Guy E. Shelley - gunner - New Cumberland,
* S/Sgt. Vernon L. Moore - gunner - New Boston, Ohio
* S/Sgt. Samuel R. Adams - gunner - Eureka, Illinois
The crew took off from Benina shortly after 3:00 p.m., one
of the last to depart. High winds and obscured visibility
prevented it from joining the main formation of bombers, and
it continued the mission on its own.
An 8:52 p.m. an entry in the navigator's log shows a bearing
of 140� that indicates the plane abandoned the mission and
turned back towards base, but its whereabouts at that time
are not known and may have been a source of dispute among
the crew itself. At approximately 10:00
p.m. the plane dropped its bombs into the Mediterranean to
reduce weight and as a result fuel consumption.
At around midnight the pilot, Lt. Hatton, called base by
radio and stated that his automatic direction finder was not
working and asked for a location of base. He was apparently
given a bearing but it is unknown if Lady Be Good received
the transmission or not.
The plane apparently overflew its base and did not see
flares fired to attract its attention and continued into the
interior of North Africa for two more hours.
After the crew abandoned the aircraft, it continued flying
southward. The mostly intact wreckage and evidence showing
one engine was still operating at the time of impact
suggests the aircraft gradually lost altitude in a very
shallow descent, reached the flat, open desert floor and
landed on its belly.
On February 27, 1959, British oil surveyor Paul Johnson
spotted the wreckage near 26�42′45.7″N 24�01′27″E /
26.712694�N 24.02417�E / 26.712694; 24.02417, 440 statute
miles southeast of Soluch, following up a first sighting
from the air on May 16, 1958, and another on June 15. A
recovery team made initial trips from Wheelus Air Base to
the crash site on May 26, 1959.
Although the plane was broken into two pieces, it was
immaculately preserved, with functioning machine guns, a
working radio, and some supplies of food and water. A
thermos of tea was found to be drinkable. No human remains
were found on board the aircraft, nor were parachutes found.
Evidence aboard the plane indicated that the men had bailed
out. Records in the log of navigator Lieutenant Hays, who
was on his very first mission, ended at Naples.
The United States Army conducted a search for the remains of
the airmen. Finding evidence the men had walked northward,
the exploration concluded their bodies were buried beneath
In 1960, eight of the bodies were found by another British
oil exploration team after an extensive ground search.
After parachuting to the desert floor, eight of the nine
airmen had managed to meet up by firing their revolvers and
signal flares into the air. They had not been able to find
the ninth crewman, bombardier John Woravka, because his
parachute had only partially opened and he likely died on
impact (his body was the first found in 1960). Thinking they
were fairly close to the Mediterranean coast, the eight
surviving crew members walked north, leaving behind
footwear, parachute scraps, Mae West vests and other items
as markers to show searchers what their path had been. They
survived for eight days, sharing only a single canteen of
water while walking over 100 miles (160 km) in searing heat
before perishing. Remains of five airmen were found in a
group nearly 80 miles (130 km) from the crash site. The
other three (Guy Shelley, 'Rip' Ripslinger and Vernon Moore)
had set off to try and find help while the other five waited
behind. The bodies of Shelley and Ripslinger were found
twenty and twenty-seven miles further north, respectively.
Moore's remains were never found, although it is possible
that seven years earlier in 1953 they had been spotted and
buried by a British desert patrol, unaware that any air
crews from the war had ever gone missing in the area.
A diary recovered from the pocket of co-pilot Robert Toner
told of much suffering on the walk northward and indicated
the crew were unaware they were over land when they bailed
out. There has been speculation that whatever glimpses they
may have caught of the empty desert floor in the darkness
looked like open sea. It seems the crew never understood
they were more than 400 miles (640 km) inland.
There is some consensus the crew could have survived had
they known how far inland they were and moreover, if their
maps shown the area where they bailed out. Going north, the
distance they walked was slightly less than the distance
needed to reach the oasis of El Zighen south of them, but
they were wholly unaware of this. Additionally, if they
headed south they would have very likely found the wreckage
of the Lady Be Good with its water and food supplies,
however meager, along with its working radio, which they
might have used to call for help.
According to the Graves Registration Service report on the
The aircraft flew on a 150 degree course toward Benina
Airfield. The craft radioed for a directional reading from
the HF/DF station at Benina and received a reading of 330
degrees from Benina. The actions of the pilot in flying 440
miles into the desert, however, indicate the navigator
probably took a reciprocal reading off the back of the radio
directional loop antenna from a position beyond and south of
Benina but 'on course'. The pilot flew into the desert,
thinking he was still over the Mediterranean and on his way
Parts of the plane were scavenged or returned to the United
States for evaluation. Curiously, several aircraft that were
repaired with parts scavenged from the Lady Be Good crashed.
An Army 'Otter' that had an armrest from the bomber crashed
in the Gulf of Sidra. The only traces that were ever found
from the plane were a few parts that washed ashore�including
the armrest from the Lady Be Good.
Aside from components reused in other aircraft, other parts
from the Lady Be Good may be seen today at the National
Museum of the United States Air Force. One propeller can be
seen in front of the village hall in Lake Linden, the home
of Robert E. LaMotte.
A Royal Air Force team visited the site in 1968, and hauled
away components including an engine (later donated to the
USAF) for evaluation by the McDonnell Douglas company. Other
pieces were stripped by souvenir hunters over the years.
In August 1994, the remains of the craft were recovered by a
team led by Dr. Fadel Ali Mohammed and taken to a military
base in Tobruk for safekeeping.
The Lady Be Good incident was indirectly referenced in a
couple of television shows and movies. Sole Survivor, a 1970
made-for-TV movie, was about the ghosts of a B-25 bomber
crew that crashed in the Libyan desert.
'King Nine Will Not Return' is an episode of The Twilight
Zone that told the story of a B-25 crew member finding
himself alone with the wreckage of his plane in the
The film The Flight of the Phoenix features a plot similar
to the Lady Be Good tragedy. In this movie, a transport
plane crashes in a remote desert with a full crew, who must
decide the best way to reach civilization.
1. ^ McClendon, Dennis E. Lady Be Good, Mystery Bomber of
World War II, Aero Publishers, Inc, 1962
2. ^ In 1953 a British patrol on a desert-crossing exercise
found human remains in the same area where those of Shelley
and Ripslinger were later found. These were quickly
photographed and buried on the spot. The patrol never asked
for an investigation. In 2001 a member of the patrol
recalled the incident and photographic forensic
investigation of the remains concluded they had likely
belonged to a male whose head may have been shaped like
Moore's. However, both recovering these remains and making
any meaningful identification is highly unlikely (www.ladybegood.com).
3. ^ a b 'Lady Be Good' B-24 Bomber, Quartermaster Graves
Registration Search and Recovery
4. ^ Fact Sheets : Consolidated B-24D �Lady Be Good� :
Consolidated B-24D �Lady Be Good�
5. ^ Sole Survivor
6. ^ 'The Twilight Zone' King Nine Will Not Return (1960)