Why didn’t the Lady Be Good stay with the other two planes in its flight and return to their base with them?
Things went against the crew from the beginning. They were a new crew in a new plane, and once they took off, a dust storm disabled the other two planes who returned to the base, and the LBG proceeded by themselves.
Why didn’t the Lady Be Good’s navigator use his instruments?
Since all of the planes were to be in a formation on a mission, it was typical for all planes to key on a veteran navigator. The navigator should have begun his work when the two other planes turned back, but perhaps the captain of the LBG thought they would encounter other planes and return with them. Even so, he would have had a heading back to the base and so he might have thought it was enough. But soon it became dark.
What happened to the crew?
They bailed out 16 miles before the plane crashed deep in the desert. One died when his parachute failed to open, but the rest headed north to the coast, having no idea that they faced an impossible task: to walk 440 miles. Still, they were remarkable in trying: bodies were found by oil explorers, all except one man who has never been found. Of the other six, five went 85 miles, and one, astounding experts, walked 200!
The plane had received a bearing from their base. Did they use it?
This part is less certain than others. As the LBG came across the Mediterranean, they asked for and received a bearing. The navigation system at the base was only a single loop antenna, which made no distinction between an approaching plane and one which had already passed on the same bearing. Actually, the LBG had already flown over the base, but the pilot, taking what is called a “reciprocal reading” from the bearing, assumed that he was still out to sea and approaching his base, and flew on into the desert.
The crew never used the radio or supplies in the plane because they had bailed out.
That the plane had actually landed itself seemed impossible. Many experts, including later 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who had many hours in the cockpit of a B-24, did not think it possible. His statement was that if you took your hands off of the wheel of a B-24 for a second the plane would go out of control and crash. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened; and since the plane landed while still on its bearing, meant there was no cross wind to push it in one direction or another, and that the gas tanks feeding the two engines on each side of the plane for the ten hour flight were exhausted at almost the same time. This is nothing short of amazing given the winds in a desert, especially at night, and the fact that identical motors do not use the same exact amount of fuel.
Jon Stafford was born in Michigan, the third of four children, and grew up outside of Chicago, attending college close to home. He ventured south to Alabama for his master’s degree in Civil War history and worked toward his PhD at the University of South Carolina. Jon now lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and, after retiring from a thirty-year career teaching history to high schoolers, now spends his time as a residential building contractor, rehabbing houses. When not writing, Jon can be found spending time with his two daughters and grandchild, reading history tomes, and watching classic movies. Nostalgic for a time now gone, Jon is always rooting for the good guy: The good guys always win!