Readers of my novel Castle of Dreams often ask me about the Gremlin Special crash which was the inspiration for part of the narrative. It’s a fascinating story and one I’d like to share with you.
Stella, Rose’s granddaughter.
I scribbled all the details down in my notebook. Nothing I could have imagined about Nan’s past was as fascinating as the true story of her lost love: a soldier who died in a fiery plane crash. No matter how many years had passed since then, her story was tragic. I felt a deep sense of sadness as I watched her squint to pick up a dropped stitch. I could only guess the effort it must have taken to talk about Robert’s death. As if to confirm my thoughts, she finished the row, wrapped her knitting around the needles and put it down in her lap.
Tom, Robert’s friend who survived the plane crash.
‘I was woken by birdsong. In the dim morning light I unwrapped myself from the tarpaulin slowly and painfully, as if from a shroud, and stood up. I’d heard a search plane during the night and saw what I thought was the light of a flare, but the plane had flown on, not noticing the still-smoking wreckage under the thick jungle canopy. I put if out of my mind. I had to focus on staying alive and not give in to despair.
‘I bent down and gently shook Robert’s shoulder. He didn’t move, so I knelt and pulled back the canvas. Believing him sleeping soundly, I touched his cold face, shook him harder. He didn’t respond. It was only when I saw the dried blood on his neck where it had trickled down from his ear that I knew he was dead.’
The Gremlin Special was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that crashed during a sightseeing flight for U.S. servicemembers over the Baliem Valley (‘Shangri-La Valley’) in New Guinea in 1945. The recovery of the three survivors from an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, enemy troops, and native inhabitants was incredible. There were 5 crew and 19 passengers and only 3 people survived the crash.
The New Guinea jungle is the biggest graveyard for crashed planes in the world and the recovery of the three survivors from an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, enemy troops, and native inhabitants made worldwide news at the time.
The three survivors were spotted on the ground during an air search. Two medical paratroopers were deployed to the site, followed by 10 other support troops. A journalist, Alexander Cann was dropped into the site to document the rescue attempt. The high-altitude rescue was performed using Waco CG-4 gliders towed by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Three separate rescues were performed by towing a glider with single pilot into the valley. The glider was then loaded and configured for a live capture by the tow plane which recovered the survivors, towing them back to a base in Hollandia.
This is the original video of the rescue.
Sergeant Kenneth Decker, Corporal Margaret Hastings, and Lieutenant John McCollom.
I’ve enjoyed sharing some of the research I did for Castle of Dreams with you.