RAAF searches for buried airman’s family

ON February 28, 1943, 23-year-old Sergeant Keith Arnold Watson was on a 17-hour mission to provide anti-submarine cover to a convoy heading for Milne Bay in Papua New Guinea.

The last anyone heard of the Lismore man's where- abouts was in a final radio call to Townsville stating that the aircraft he and 10 other men were in had been forced to land.

The Court of Inquiry recorded the aircraft crashed at sea while attempting to land due to exhaustion of its fuel supply.

The wreckage was discovered 56km south of Cairns in 35m of water by Cairns diver Kevin Coombs in 2013.

It wasn't until August 2015 that Air Force investigators and a representative of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority accompanied a Navy Clearance Dive Team from HMAS Cairns to the site to gather additional evidence in order to confirm the aircraft was RAAF Number 11 Squadron Catalina A24-25 that crashed with 11 people on board.

Now the RAAF has reached out to The Northern Star in a bid to find relatives of Sgt Watson, to finally lay him and his fellow crewmen to rest. The Air Force intends to hold a memorial service and place a commemorative plaque in Cairns.

According to The Northern Star archives, Sgt Watson was the son of Mr and Mrs JCB Watson of 18 Bright St, Lismore.

As a mark of respect, the Air Force intends to leave the aircraft where it is and its crew entombed in the wreckage. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in consultation with the Air Force has declared the site a Maritime Cultural Heritage Special Management Area in order to protect it.

The Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies AO, CSC, praised the people who located and confirmed the identity of the aircraft.

"Unfortunately our history is scattered with stories of Australia's servicemen who went missing in action during World War Two," Air Marshal Davies said.

"The discovery of this Number 11 Squadron Catalina is important for Air Force and our ongoing commitment to account for our missing personnel from past conflicts - currently 3124 from the Second World War and 18 from Korea.

"It is even more important for the families to finally have some closure in knowing the resting place of the aircraft and their loved ones after such a long time."

Finding Watson

Relatives are encouraged to contact the Air Force Wrecks and MIA Investigations Cell, either via email at AirForce.Wrecks&MIA Investigations@defence.gov.au or phone 02 6128 7608 or 6128 7519.