Shortly after the Lady Be Good overflew the aerodrome, they called over the radio to get a bearing. It seems they did not realize they had overflown since they asked for an INBOUND bearing, which was what they got. They seem to have thought they were still flying over the Mediterranean, since they wore life preservers when they bailed out from the plane. By the time their fuel ran low and they realized they were in serious trouble, they were far out of the base's radio range.
Strangely enough, when the plane was searched they found the ADF was switched off.
Of the crew: the first search parties found none. They were told by a doctor that the crew could have not walked more than 20 miles from where they landed, in a desert which is around 130 F during the day and 28 F at night. Especially since they had only half a canteen of water for 8 men.
Nine men were in the original crew. The bombardier, John Woravka, had a defective parachute. His body was later found a few miles from the plane, where he had died instantly on impact. From the diaries found on 2 of the others, the other eight men never discovered his body or knew what had happened to him. BTW, he was carrying more water than any of the others: a full canteen and another that was half full.
When the crew landed and hit sand instead of water they instantly knew what they had done wrong. They knew they had gotten onto a reciprocal bearing and overflown the base. What they didn't know was the geography of the area, nor had they any idea how terribly far away they were from help.
The Lady crashed on a rocky plateau surrounded on three sides by the "Sand Sea of Calascio", an impossible place to cross where the dunes were so deep you would sink to your knees in sand with every step. Not even the native Libyans attempted to travel it. The maps they had only extended to some 100 miles south of their base, besides they were not accurate. They tried to walk back to their base.
They left markers along their trail in the hope rescuers would come. The first was found some 25 miles away from their landing site. The doctors were amazed that anyone could walk so far in such a climate. More markers were found: 30, 35, 40 miles. Finally at 50 miles the plateau ended and the sand sea began. The first searchers didn't find anyone, but eventually five of the men were found here: the pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and two gunners. By the way, the remains were not skeletal at all, but like the contents of the plane, were strangely well preserved. In the exceedingly dry climate, the water quickly evaporated from the bodies leaving them in a mummy-like state.
The copilot kept a diary which was recovered. It seemed the three men who were still able to walk--all of them young, enlisted men-had continued in search of help, into the sea of sand. The sole canteen of the crew was found here. The co-pilot's diary tells how they lived: one capful of water each per day, crouching under the remnants of their parachutes to wait out the crushing heat of the day, walking during the freezing night.
The three men walked out into the dunes: gunners Shelley, Ripslinger and Moore. Later Ripslinger's body was found some seventeen miles out. Shelley was found last, 90 miles from where his crew had landed. He lived three days walking in that sand sea with no water at all. Vernon Moore's body was never found, but my opinion is that it was merely obscured by the shifting sand. It's still out there somewhere.
The saddest part of the whole story is this: if they had *not* immediately decided to walk directly northwest, or had an accurate map of the area, it is remotely possible they could have survived. The area is desolate, except for a single oasis due southwest about 120 miles from the plane's wreckage. Had they walked south, they would have found their plane, with its additional provisions inside, and somebody could have walked to the oasis. The sand sea was its absolute narrowest at that point--only about 20 miles--Shelley at least could have made it there.
My father took a great number of slides of the plane as he found it. I grew up listening to the story. Still gives me nightmares.
I can't forget these kids, on their first mission, lost by such a simple mistake, fighting so hard to survive. Their endurance was unbelievable, their fate so cruel.
"LIFE isn't fair, Calvin."
"I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?"
----Calvin and Hobbes