Location - Hinchinbrook Island National Park, Queensland, Australia
Distance - Approximately 8.5 km loop (not including the zig zagging through creeks)
Time - Allow 8 hours return
Grade - Difficult and strenuous
Type - Remote, off-track bushwalking
On one stormy morning in 1942, a USAAF B-24 Liberator (#41-23825), known as "Texas Terror", slammed into Mount Straloch (922 m) exploding on impact and killing all twelve people on board. The heavy storms around Ingham and Cardwell hid the big peaks of Hinchinbrook Island which the crew were not expecting while flying over the sea.
Fresh from the factory and heading for the battlefields of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the B-24 was being flown from Amberley, stopping in Garbutt. Townsville, to the bomber base at Iron Range in Far North Queensland. The B24 had been carrying a payroll for US troops in New Guinea.
Crashed on 18 December 1942, it wasn't until late in 1943 that Aborigines scratching for tin in the island's streams reported to authorities that they had found burnt currency. A search party found the plane on January 7, 1944. The payroll was never found. Shortly after the wreckage was discovered, Australian Federal Police retrieved more than USD 100,000 from two men in a nearby town.
Much of the mountain area is covered with fragile heath vegetation. To protect the unspoiled nature of the mountains and in the interest of safety, hiking in these areas is restricted. Any group wishing to walk into the mountains will need to apply in writing to Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). It's not just for human safety (i.e., because numbers are controlled/monitored), but largely to protect the fragile, heath vegetation that covers most of the area. It is important to note that those just doing a day trip also need a mountain permit. Any group wishing to hike in the mountains will need to apply – in writing – to Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) at least a few weeks in advance. This is all the more reason to remember to be low impact and embrace the "Leave No Trace" and "Pack it In, Pack it Out" philosophies.
Please remember the crash site of the WWII Bomber at the top of Mount Starloch is a protected cultural heritage and nothing can be removed from the site.
There is no designated walking track; the whole way is boulder hopping up the creek. A topographical map and compass should be carried. During your climb to the wreckage you are rewarded with panoramic views of the Hinchinbrook Channel and Lucinda. There are many water holes to take a dip in or fill up your water bladder.
How to get there
It's best to launch your vessel from Lucinda boat ramp. Cross the channel and up the creek (see the interactive map below). Tie your boat off at the sign an the mangroves. Follow the surveys tape a 100 metres through the mangroves - watch out for crocs. It's a good idea to have one set of shoes for the muddy mangroves and another for the creek rock hopping. Then about a 200 metres walk to the creek on roughy cut track.
From here, you'll rock hop up the creek. The creek bursts with butterflies as you walk past the trees.
The first part of the creek is very straightforward and the latter part becomes steep and rather technical rock scramble - especially in the wet. There are very steep ledges to climb. This is where it becomes unsafe if the rocks are damp. You will see a rock cairn, a rusty .50 cal and a few bits of wreckage around 300 metres from the impact zone. At this point, you will see two motors are in the right hand gully.
From here, you want to head right out of the creek to the cliff faces. There is a rope to assist your ascent up the cliff face; It's up to you if you trust it or not... Continue up to the fuselage and the memorial cross beside the tree.
Here's an interactive map of the Mount Starloch with the routes and POIs.
You'll need good weather otherwise rocks are very slippery and is not possible for most people to do when wet or damp. Though if you do go in the drizzle, it really gives you an idea of what it would have been like the day of the crash. I recommend that you do not attempt this hike if you have an existing injury particularly in your knees or ankles and would recommend completing this with someone who has done it before, unless you're an experienced hiker.
What to bring
What you bring will depend on duration, routes taken, and activities. Essentials are:
- A topographical map and compass (and/or a GPS unit)
- PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) or an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)
- A method for water treatment
Safety is paramount in these rugged, remote wilderness areas. It's important that people who are considering hiking up Mt Straloch are aware of the risks. Here are some things to consider:
- Loose, chossy landscape and rock fall like that on creek edges. Warren MacDonald lost his legs when traversing over large creek boulders that shifted underfoot; the shift caused the boulders to roll and therefore physically crush his legs.
- Cloud covering – it is easy to navigate the last hour or two to the summit on a clear day but when clouded in, it is easy to become disorientated. The terrain is rugged and it could be easy to become cliffed out.
- Navigational error – particularly ascending via a creek routes.
- Flash flooding – creeks and streams can suddenly and become impassable during and after heavy rain and will take at least twice as long to traverse.
- Planned burns – it's important to contact QPWS before attempting remote trips as they may be firebombing.
- Other potential hazards can include crocodiles, snakes, and steep drop-offs.
We would like this historic site to be remembered, and we would like the relics and artefacts to stay at the site and not fall victim to collectors and trophy hunters. There are few places remaining like this in Australia, let alone the world, to explore that have not been pillaged. There is no reason to remove objects from any of these sites. Please be responsible, respect the history, and respect the importance of this site for future generations. Take photos and leave only footprints.