An Attempt to Locate the Missing B-25 Mitchell

Dale Wilson and five others were on a mission to Wewak/Boram, New Guinea, when they where hit by AA (Anti-Aircraft) fire November 27, 1943.

There has been one serious attempt to locate the lost B-25 Mitchell, but it resulted in a tragedy in 2005 for the main wreck researcher, Don Fetterly. This is the first time I’ve ever shared these details. 

Donald R. Fetterly was an engineer with Raytheon Corp. in Tucson, Arizona, but had a passion for hunting for wrecks in the Australia-New Guinea area. A hobby diver since 1986, he connected with an Australian boat owner. The boat had a side-scan sonar to provide images of the ocean floor.

I was “introduced” to Don in late 2004 by Jim Ragsdale, whose wife is the niece of the bomber’s navigator, John Stack. I met Jim, a reporter and editorial writer for The Star Tribune in the Twin Cities, when we visited our son there in June 2005. I’d already sent information about Dale Wilson, who was the copilot of the missing B-25. He gave me a copy of John Stack’s letters he’d transcribed.

The Wilsons and the Stacks were the only two families, from the six men aboard on that last bombing mission (November 27, 1943), who received messages from the West Coast from people who’d heard radio broadcasts in early 1944 by Tokyo Rose that their sons were Japanese POWs.

Fetterly’s father served during the war and collected books about the war. Don had also researched wrecks in the south Pacific and interviewed men who’d been in combat during the war. His first trip to New Guinea was in late 1989, where he dived a liberty ship in a remote location. Since he did extensive research before attempting a dive, I sent him as much documentation as I’d dug up–maps, photos, casualty reports. Don also gave presentations regularly about his diving expeditions. 

Don asked me not to tell anyone that he was planning the Wewak exploratory expedition for October 2005, with a possible main expedition the spring of 2006. 

Photo: Pacific Wrecks

Photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Ulla Lohmann, from Germany, called to get background information for a documentary about searching for the plane. She was the senior producer. Ulla and Don Fetterly collected tapes of Wewak strikes from the National Archives in February of 2005, to help pinpoint the search location. 

The two big questions: Did any of the crew escape, and how did the Japanese get the detailed information they used on Radio Tokyo? 

Don Fetterly died October 20, 2005, after suffering a stroke on Rod Pearce’s boat in Papua New Guinea. He’d hired Rod for ten days. After first being hospitalized in New Guinea, he was Medevacked to Cairns Base Hospital in northern Australia. Before he died, he told the others, “Complete the mission,” but the mission was dropped. 

The names of the six men lost on this mission are listed, along with more than 36,000 others, on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines.

Journalist Jim Ragsdale died in 2014. Mary Ragsdale, his widow and the niece of navigator John Stack, has taken up his mission to write her uncle’s story.

Five brothers served. Only two came home. Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.


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