Lady Be Good – Ghost Bomber Found in Sahara Perfectly Preserved

“Lady Be Good” was a World War II B-24D Liberator bomber that mysteriously vanished during its crew’s maiden operational flight in 1943. Discovered 15 years later in the Libyan desert, the aircraft had crash-landed after the crew bailed out. What followed was a punishing and tragic trek through almost 100 miles of Sahara in search of rescue.

When the aircraft was found 15 years later, it was, incredibly, still mostly intact, with a working radio and operational machine guns.


The Mission

During the Second World War the strategic importance of North Africa cannot be overstated. Situated between Europe and the vast expanse of the African continent, the North African theater became a critical front for both the Allies and the Axis powers.

Control over this region meant access to vital Mediterranean sea routes, and a potential launch pad for invasions into Southern Europe or deeper into Africa.

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A tug of war ensued as both sides attempted to claim the region, resulting in a series of intense and hard-fought battles.

In the midst of this, the U.S. Army Air Forces were engaged in aerial campaigns to disrupt Axis supply lines, infrastructure, and troop concentrations in the Mediterranean. From airbases in North Africa, these bombers were able to hit targets in Italy. They had to cover vast distances, often flying over hostile territory and challenging landscapes.

Lady Be Lucky Crew.
The crew of Lady Be Good, from the left: William J. Hatton, pilot, Robert F. Toner, co-pilot, D.P. Hays, navigator, John S. Woravka, bombardier, Harold J. Ripslinger, flight engineer, Robert E. LaMotte, radio operator, Guy E. Shelley, gunner, Vernon L. Moore, gunner, Samuel E. Adams, gunner.

B-24D Liberator bomber, “Lady Be Good,” was involved in these critical missions. As a part of the 376th Bombardment Group, this aircraft and its crew were stationed at Soluch (now known as Benina) in Libya.

On April 4, 1943, Lady Be Good participated in a mission to bomb the port city of Naples in Italy, a significant Axis hub.

For the crew and the aircraft this mission was more than just another sortie; it was their maiden operational flight. Laden with the responsibility of their task and the weight of the ongoing war, the crew embarked on their journey. They were in the second wave of a 25-aircraft flight to the target.

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Reaching Naples in the evening, Lady Be Good made the return flight to the North African coast alone, but experienced technical issues on the way. The aircraft’s captain contacted his home base to information them that their direction finder wasn’t functioning properly, and asked for navigational assistance.

B-24 in Tunisia.
A B-24 in operations in North Africa.

The airbase fired flares for Lady Be Good to spot visually, but it seems this went unnoticed as the aircraft overflew the base and carried on going south, way past their intended destination. They carried on flying south for two hours, penetrating deep into the Sahara Desert.

Eventually the aircraft ran out of fuel and the crew bailed out, leaving the lonely bomber to glide for another 16 miles (26 km) until it crashed landed in the desert.

When the aircraft failed to return to Soluch airbase without a distress call, she was eventually deemed lost, presumably claimed by the vast Mediterranean Sea or enemy fire.

The absence of this aircraft and her crew from the base marked the beginning of a mystery that would remain unsolved for 15 years.

The Discovery Of Lady Be Good

In 1958, a barren and seemingly lifeless stretch of the Libyan desert bore witness to an unexpected revelation. As oil exploration grew in importance during the post-war years, companies traversed some of the world’s most inhospitable terrains seeking black gold.

British Petroleum was at the forefront of this pursuit, deploying teams to probe the vast, uncharted sands of Libya.

It was during one of these exploratory missions that an oil survey team stumbled upon a sight that stood out against the arid landscape: the remains of an aircraft.

Aerial view of the Lady Be Lucky crash site.
Aerial view of the crash site. The aircraft broke in two when landing.

The vast and shifting sands of the Libyan desert, known for swallowing entire armies in antiquity, had preserved an artifact of modern warfare. The aircraft, lying there partially buried, bore the aura of a ghost ship.

Its relatively undamaged state presented an immediate puzzle: This wasn’t a plane that had been violently shot down but one that had made a controlled descent.

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The US Air Force was notified, but to begin with had little interest as their records did not show any lost aircraft in the area. The site was visited in person in 1959, where the aircraft’s identification marks revealed its identity: it was the wreckage of a B-24, “Lady Be Good”, found 15 years after it was lost.

Lady Be Lucky nose section.
Investigators search the nose section of Lady Be Good. Note the machine guns still protruding from the nose.

With this revelation, the US Air Force dispatched their own team to investigate the crash.

For those who saw her, the sight must have been haunting. The plane, which had been lost for a decade and a half, was found not in the waters of the Mediterranean or in the debris-strewn landscapes of war-torn Europe, but deep within the Sahara hundreds of miles off its intended course.

It was found broken in two, with the tail section located right next to the fuselage and wings.

The B-24 sat in the featureless desert.
Right side view of the wreckage. One of the engines was found to still be operable.

The wreckage was found 440 miles away from the Soluch airbase in Calanshio Sand Sea, a 24,000 square mile expanse of sand and one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this story though is how unbelievably well preserved the wreckage was, despite spending 15 years baking in the sun.

It still contained all of the crew’s belongings and artefacts from before they bailed out, including log books, rations, water and even a flask of coffee – which was found to still be drinkable! The rations were also considered edible.

An interior view of the aircraft's waist section.
Inside the waist section of Lady Be Good’s fuselage. Its condition is remarkable.

All of the aircraft’s defensive .50 caliber machine guns were still present, as was their ammunition. The guns were still in working order, and some were even fired by the discovery team!

Incredibly, the radio was still intact and still worked! Evidence also suggested that the aircraft landed with one engine still running.

The condition of the “Lady Be Good” presented investigators with a cascade of questions. How did the aircraft find its way so far off course? Why did it crash land in the desert?

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But perhaps the most pressing question was: Where was the crew? The aircraft seemed to be abandoned rather than crashed in a catastrophic manner, plus the lack of human remains or parachutes clearly indicated that the crew had bailed. This realization deepened the mystery, suggesting a story not just of mechanical failure or navigational error, but also of human endurance, survival, and tragedy.

Lady Be Good rear gun turret,
Lady Be Good’s rear gun turret, still equipped with working .50 caliber machine guns and live ammunition belts.

In 1959 a series of searches aimed to find the missing crew, although the chances of this were rather slim considering the size of the desert and its constantly shifting sands. The crew were not found, but a number of their possessions were. These were used as directional markers, indicating to any would-be search parties of their path.

The following year though oil surveyors came across the bodies of five of Lady Be Good’s crew. They were found with many more artefacts, including a diary that allowed investigators to piece together what happened.

Although the bodies of five crewmen had been found, four were still missing.

Lady Be Lucky dorsal turret.
A good view of the dorsal turret. Note the fantastic condition of the skin and weaponry.

The US discovered another two crewmen before calling off the hunt in May of 1960. But that wasn’t the end, as oil surveyors would find a single body and its parachute that same year. The ninth crew member is still missing to this day, and will likely never be found.

So what happened?

The Crew’s Ill-fated Journey

After encountering technical issues and then making navigational errors, the crew of Lady Be Good flew past Soluch and carried on deep into the night over the Sahara Desert. After running low on fuel they decided to bail out. At this point the aircraft had travelled around 1,800 miles since leaving Soluch.

From the collected evidence it seems that, in a cruel twist of fate, the crew believed they were still over the Mediterranean Sea when they made this choice. This decision, made under the assumption of an impending and dangerous water landing in the pitch black, instead saw them descend into the relentless and unforgiving expanse of the Sahara.

Landing 16 miles from their aircraft, eight of the nine crew were able to quickly locate each other. Unknown to them at the time, the ninth crewman’s parachute failed to open properly, and he had already perished.

Shoes belonging to the crew were left as navigation aids.
Shoes left in the desert as navigational marker’s by the crew.

Upon discovering that they weren’t over the Mediterranean Sea, the crew deduced that they couldn’t be far away, so they began heading north. What they did not know was that they were actually around 400 miles inland, with almost no hope of survival.

With no shelter and only half a canteen of water to sustain them, they embarked on a brutal journey covering almost 100 miles through intensely hot desert.

Their path was a testament to their determination, with each step taken in the hope of finding civilization or rescue.

Diary entries painted a vivid, heart-wrenching picture of their ordeal: the blistering days when the sun seemed like a relentless adversary and the freezing nights that sapped their strength.

Despite their profound will to survive, the Sahara’s vastness and hostility began to claim them one by one. Five men were too weak to continue so they stopped their trek, while the other three continued on. Eventually though these men also succumbed to the desert.

Lady Be Good crash site viewed from the front.
Front view of the crash site. Note the nose wheel on the right of image, which is still inflated.

It was one of these three, Vernon Moore, who has never been found. However his remains may have been unknowingly found in the 1950s and buried.

Investigators proposed that had the men travelled the same distance south they may have survived. By doing this they could have found their aircraft (and its small stash of supplies) and used its radio to call for help.

Also within reach in this direction is a natural oasis.

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Parts of the aircraft were salvaged and inspected, with some being in such good condition they were used again in flying aircraft. Others were donated to museums. The rest of the aircraft was recovered in the 1990s, and today is stored at the Jamal Abdelnasser Air Force Base in unknown, but likely poor condition.