The Ghost Plane “King Size” Found

B-24 Liberator
Crew of the B-24 'King Size'

On Christmas Day 1944, the  B-24 Liberator ‘King Size’ is attacked by 15 German Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s while attempting to return from a bombing run over Germany back to their base in Hethel, England.  The bomber gets into a spin, but pilot Raymond Price gets it under control again. Unfortunately because of the damage, the plane becomes a straggler and gets behind the fleet.

B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberators 1948

The plane is badly hit and smoke pours from one of the engines. Several crewmembers get wounded and Raymond Price gives the order to bail out. Co-pilot Edward O’Rourke decides to ignore that order and gives the finger to his pilot. Navigator John Tiedemann also decides to stay in the plane as Raymond Price continued to help other crew members to bail out.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190A ww2
Focke-Wulf Fw 190A

Leon Liscomb, left waist gunner, gets out the plane first. He lands behind enemy lines and becomes a prisoner of war. During an Allied air raid on Bitburg, January 2 1945, where he was kept in former Wehrmacht barracks, he gets killed. Leon Liscomb is buried in the neighbor town, Motsch, and is brought back home later.

While Raymond Price is fighting with the plane, Peter Ferdinand (radio operator) is trying to help Walter Eberly (top turret gunner) out of the plane. Walter is terrified and refuses to jump. A bit later, Peter and Bob Ball (nose turret gunner) bail out and land safely. They both got back behind allied lines and made it back to the US.

Meanwhile, Raymond might have seen, that the terrain below him is much more open, with many meadows. We think Raymond decides to try to make a crash landing and he sets in a U-turn. Soon after the jump of Peter and Bob, we assume that an explosion took place, blowing out Owen Fox. He falls in the thick woods, just outside of La Fosse. A few days later, he is found by a civilian who steals his handgun and left him behind.

Finally, Walter and tailgunner Henry Maxham jump out the plane. Their jump is too late and they fell to death because the plane is flying to low. Just after that, the plane crashes in the meadow, killing Raymond, Edward and John. Owen Fox was found back five years later, when the owner of the land, Jules Evrard, was turning this piece of wood into a meadow. Owen was picked up by US authorities in 1951 and was brought back to the US.

B-24 Liberator
Crew of the B-24 ‘King Size’

On March 23-24, 2018, 73 years after that fateful day, Peter Ferdinand, Jr. and his sister Debbie Ferdinand Kelley travelled from the United States to Belgium to participate in the recovery of their father’s plane, King Size 42-50612. Technical Sergeant Peter Ferdinand, Sr. was one of the two fortunate survivors of the 1944 crash.

He managed to do so by parachuting to safety in the middle of fierce fighting during the Battle of the Bulge and was eventually rescued by US troops. Having survived a terrifying experience, Ferdinand returned home to Drums, Pennsylvania, where he married and had a good life raising four children.

B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberator

Discovering the Crash

In 1944, a young boy witnessed a plane crash around his family’s farm during Christmas time. Decades later, in 2014, the boy, then an ageing landowner, asked his community for help to metal-detect and locate pieces of the plane that crashed. For four years, a group of Dutch and Belgian men led by Bob Konings of Grandmenil, Belgium, scouted the land with metal detectors.

They eventually located the debris field and recovered numerous small pieces which they were able to identify only as a B24 Liberator. Despite the fact that the plane’s true name and the identity of the crew continued to elude the team of detectors, the farmer wanted to erect a memorial on his property in their honour.

B-24 Liberator cockpit
Consolidated B-24D Liberator Cockpit Source:USAF Museum

King Size Identified

In November 2017, Konings requested the aid of a Second World War researcher, Myra Miller, PhD, and Flemish Second World War expert, Steven Volkaerts, in identifying the plane and crew. With their help, Konings identified the 42-50612 as a possible match. Later, an Englishman and Second World War 8th Air Force expert, David Pratt, found the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) with the full list of names.

Miller had ordered the Individual Deceased Persons File (IDPF) and Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) related to these crashes after narrowing the list of possible planes to three. By then reviewing around thirty files, she was able to confirm the downed plane as the King Size, B24 Liberator, 42-50612 and name the nine airmen.

B-24 Liberator
B-24 Liberator Through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers 1944

Laid to Rest

Within hours of identifying the King Size, Konings and Miller located Peter Ferdinand’s son via social media and established contact. On March 23, 2018, Miller along with Ferdinand’s adult children, including his son-in-law, arrived at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial near Liege, Belgium. Miller had escorted them to participate in a “sanding-of-the-marker” ceremony honouring the pilot and tail gunner who perished in the plane crash.

Marker A rough field stone which holds a plaque with French and English text along with photos of the nine crewmembers Photo: uswarmemorials

Plane Crash Recovery

Twenty members of the plane crash recovery team, as well as the Ferdinands, excavated the final pieces of the B-24 Liberator out of the ground on the weekend of March 24-25. A film crew was also present to document the entire story and subsequent recovery surrounding the plane.

The recovery team anticipated major pieces of the plane to be uncovered which would be catalogued and donated to a museum. The location of the excavation was nevertheless not made public except with express permission.