The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) conducted a memorial service for the families of the 10 crew members of RAAF No. 11 Squadron Catalina A24-50 who perished on a war-time mission 78 years ago.

Catalina A24-50 was reported missing on 2 September 1943 while on a sea-mining operation to Sorong, in occupied Dutch New Guinea. Initial searches found no sign of the aircraft, however in April 2018 it was finally located at Fakfak in Papua, Indonesia.

Wreckage from Catalina A24-50 lies scattered across a mountainside near Fakfak, Indonesia.. Image DoD AU

Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, AO, DSC, said a joint Australian Defence Force-TNI (Indonesia military) operation to the crash site helped bring closure for the descendants of the 10 Catalina crew members.

Today we demonstrated our unwavering commitment to honouring the service and sacrifice of Australian military personnel from all theatres of war, no matter the passage of time,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said.

Families were today presented with service medals, certificates of service and, importantly, artefacts recovered from the crash site. Our hope is that families will take some comfort in knowing the resting place of their loved ones and their aircraft after such a long time.

While we remember and honour those Australian Defence Force members lost in service to our country, we must also acknowledge the families who sustained life on the home front during those war years, and who continue to do so today.

Theirs is no lesser service or sacrifice.”

A Royal Australian Air Force P-8A Poseidon flown by aircrew from No. 11 Squadron based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, near Adelaide in South Australia, will perform a flypast as part of the commemorative ceremony to honour the RAAF No. 11 Squadron Catalina A24-50 mission crew who were lost in Indonesia during World War Two.

The P-8A Poseidon is the modern equivalent of the Catalina, and its primary roles are anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, maritime surveillance and search and rescue.

At 9:00am 18 July 2021, the Poseidon flypast opened the commemoration, tracking east to west passing over the Cairns Catalina Memorial, The Esplanade, at a height no lower than 200 metres and at a speed of approximately 450 kilometres per hour.

Background

The Catalina flying boat was one of the most versatile aircraft of the Second World War. Catalina aircraft stationed at Cairns were used from late 1942 by Number 11 Squadron to fly long-range missions against Japanese shipping and submarines.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) used more than 150 Catalinas between 1941 and 1945

Catalina at Rathmines RAAF base in 1951. Image credit Tom Wigley Flickr

No. 11 Squadron Catalina A24-50 left Cairns on 2 September 1943 and crashed in mountainous terrain in Papua. All 10 crew members were lost with the aircraft and subsequent searches of the area failed to find any evidence of the aircraft or determine the fate of the crew.

The crash site was finally located in 2018 by local forestry workers, and Australian and Indonesian military personnel and staff worked closely in collaboration, securing access to the site in support of the recovery process.