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1942 crash of two P-400 USAF Airacobras at Queens Beach

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

On the 2nd July 1942, 26 year old, Lt. George L. Austin, Jr. (0-392733) was killed when his P-400 Airacobra plane crashed in Rossiters Market Garden (between Josephine and Silvester St) after colliding with another '80 Squadron' P-400 Airacobra piloted by Lt Malcolm Sponenbergh, while flying in formation over Redcliffe, Lt. Sponenbergh, who survived the war, gave his version of events which are generally as follows:

Lt. Austin was the flight leader, and Sponenbergh was his wing-man.  They were returning from gunnery practice, flying at about 1,000 feet.  Austin gave the signal to close up.  He moved to the spot he was used to fly, a little below but close in.  They flew in this manner for a couple of minutes and then Austin slumped over the stick and the plane turned into Sponenbergh and began diving.  "I closed the throttle tried to turn and dive with him. Seeing that we would soon be in a vertical dive, with little altitude I tried to break off, but I wasn't clear of him and we collided." Sponenbergh's plane had the blades of the propeller bent and the plane refused to respond to added power.  He released the door to bail out and found he was directly above Redcliffe, so he headed out to sea and jumped when he crossed the shore line. 

Because of the low altitude he submerged and tangled in the shrouds, and cut his way out. As he surfaced some fishermen arrived.

He was rescued by Thomas Larkin and his two sons, Thomas 16yrs and Edward 8yrs who were fishing in the bay at the time of the accident. He was uninjured except for a scratch on his cheek caused by his throat mike which had not been disconnected. They rowed to the beach with him where on arrival a lady appeared with a flask of hot tea and a blanket. The lady was a Mrs Marie Mole, who lived near the beach.

Parts of the plane landed on the Scarborough State School roof . Lt. Austin crashed into Rossiter’s market garden and Flight Surgeon Capt. Patrick informed Sponenbergh that he was asphyxiated and no doubt unconscious when he hit the ground, and was probably unconscious at the time of the collision.

Mrs Anne Rossiter (nee Law) wife of Charles Rossiter of Josephine St, Redcliffe with grand-daughters Doris and Joyce, standing in the hole made by Austin's plane crashing into "Rossiter's Market Garden". Photo by Enid Scarborough.

From website:

"Mrs. E. Scarborough of Redcliffe said that her husband's grandfather, Charles Rossiter, was working in his market garden between Josephine and Sylvester Streets, Redcliffe when he became aware of the plane piloted by Austin, crashing towards him. It crashed into the ground about 100 feet from where he was chipping weeds. The event deeply shocked him as he was an elderly man even at that time. There were flames where the plane had crashed and it gouged a deep hole into the ground and bullets were going off from the vicinity of the plane. First the Police arrived, and the US Air Force personnel arrived promptly and the area was cordoned off. The Americans quickly cleared up the scene of the crash.

Mrs. Jean Houghton of Redcliffe, just off Sutton Street, stated she was on her back door landing when she heard a noise and saw the two planes crash into one another. One flew to the direction of the beach and the other slightly northward. She went to the location where the plane crashed into the sea and found that the pilot had been dragged out of the water by fishermen and they wanted to take him to a house owned by people named Rodgers. American Service personnel had arrived on the scene shortly afterwards, she cannot say how long, but although the local people thought the Pilot needed rest and attention, the officer in charge of the American group was adamant that he be taken back to the Airfield as soon as possible and back into a plane (The idea was to retain his services as a pilot before shock or some other consideration, cause him to lose his nerve and render him ineffective as a pilot.)"

The wreck of Sponenbergh’s Bell P-400 Airacobra plane was never recovered and still lies about 300 to 500 yards directly out from Sylvester St. entry to the beach.

Photo of a similar P-39 plane found in the Solomon Islands:

A prawner saw the plane in 1950's with its wings folded back and for a few years it could be seen on a clear day, however no sightings of it have been made since the mid 1980's.

1942 The first government aerial photo taken on the 10th November 1942 - 4 months after the crash.

  • The Courier-Mail - Saturday 4th July 1942 - Page 3


An airman was killed and another parachuted to safety when two planes collided over an. Australian harbour. The plane in which the pilot was killed crashed in a market garden, and the other dived into the sea. Pilot of the latter plane parachuted from a low level, and was rescued by three amateur fishermen. They rowed 300 yards to the scene. As they reached the airman in the water one of the oars broke, and the return voyage was made with difficulty, using an oar and a half."

1st Lt. George Lafayette AUSTIN (0-392733) 26yrs, died on July 2nd 1942 and was originally buried at the Ipswich US Military Cemetery on 6th July 1942, and he also has a plot at:

Woodlawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum, Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee, USA.

He was born and raised in Stevenson, Jackson County, Alabama, and was the second son to Dr and Mrs George L. Austin. He is also listed on the Honor Roll at Chambers County, Alabama.

Ipswich US Military Cemetery:

Lt. Col. Malcolm C. (Mac) SPONENBERGH, USAF (Ret.) age 93 of Fairborn, died July 8th, 2011 in Fairborn, Ohio.

Malcolm learned to fly with the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and joined the Army Air Corps as a Flying Cadet in 1941. He earned his wings and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant December 12, 1941 at Craig Field, Alabama. Assigned to the 49th Pursuit Group he sailed with the Group January 12, 1942 for Australia. After completing 67 fighter (P-39) combat missions in New Guinea, he served as an Operations Officer with V Fighter Command, adding 13 more combat missions in a variety of aircraft. He served in staff positions with Third and Ninth Air Forces, Tactical Air Command, Fifth Air Force in Korea, Oklahoma City Air Material Area, and Air Force Logistics Command. He retired April 1966 after 25 years of service having been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He was rated as a Command Pilot with over 4000 hours in 40 civilian and military aircraft. He is on the US National Airspace Museum Wall of Honor.

Lt. Austin with P-39F 41-7213 at Petrie Airstrip in 1942.

Credit: 80th Fighter Squadron Association

Pilot Sponenbergh returned to visit the crash site in 1993:

L to R: Grace Beecher, Mrs Mole, Malcolm Sponenbergh and Ted Larkin:

Photo from "Redcliffe remembers the war years" book:

The Bell P-39 Airacobra is a fighter produced by Bell Aircraft for the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. It was one of the principal American fighters in service when the United States entered combat. The P-39 was used by the Soviet Air Force, and enabled individual Soviet pilots to collect the highest number of kills attributed to any U.S. fighter type flown by any air force in any conflict. Other major users of the type included the Free French, the Royal Air Force, and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force.

P-39s and P-400s are virtually indistinguishable. The P-400 was the export version of the P-39 and was used early-on in the war in the PTO by the 8th and the 35th Fighter Groups. They were quickly phased out in favor of later P-39s or other types of airplanes

80th Squadron history in Brisbane:

80th Fighter Squadron and the rest of the 8th Fighter Group sailed to Australia on an old cattle boat called "Maui", leaving in about late January 1942. They arrived in Brisbane on 6 March 1942.

The 80th Fighter Group were equipped with P-39's assembled at Eagle Farm airport. These P-39's assembled at Eagle Farm were originally intended to go to the Philippines but the convoy was diverted to Brisbane. The 35th Fighter Group had earlier been equipped with P-39's assembled at Eagle Farm.

The 80th Fighter Squadron moved to Lowood airfield on 28th March 1942.

By 10th May 1942, the 80th Pursuit Squadron had moved from Lowood airfield to Petrie airfield, just north of Brisbane where they trained for combat for 2 months.

The accident in Redcliffe was on the 2nd July during this time.

They moved to Port Moresby, arriving on 20 July 1942. They relocated to Milne Bay on 8 November 1942. They moved to Mareeba airfield on 6 February 1943 to re-equip with P-38 Lockheed Lightnings. They then moved to Kila airfield at Port Moresby on 21 March 1943.


A propeller was donated and is on display at the Aero Club in Redcliffe.

Photo from the Moreton Bay Library Collection :RMPC-100\100431

It is from a single seat fighter plane trawled up 20 nautical miles North East of Cape Moreton in 90 fathoms in 1976, by captain Mark Geddes and lift Trevor Webber.



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