July 12, 2013

Trekking to the crash site of the RAF Liberator KL654R


First, let me tell you about a plane crash ... on the 23rd of August 1945, just several days after the end of WW2, the RAF Liberator KL654R (a B24 bomber of the South East Asia Command (SEAC) 356 Squadron) and 8 crew members took off from Cocos Island, about 1000km south of Sumatra heading towards Malaysia. They were on a mission to drop supplies and leaflets announcing the surrender of Japan and the end of the war. Sadly, it turned out to be their final mission ... the plane and its crew members crashed into the deep jungle of Negeri Sembilan.
The RAF Liberator KL654R (photo sourced from internet)
According to sources from the internet, the crash site was discovered by local orang asli during the 1950s and reported it to the authorities. However no action was taken to excavate the crash site until 1991 when a group of orang asli while gathering rattan stumbled upon main fuselage and took the plane’s machine guns to the Kuala Pilah police station. This prompted a military search which located the crash site with the help of a local orang asli called Pak Abu. Pak Abu originally heard the story of the Liberator crash from his father who actually saw black smoke and explosion of the plane as it crashed into the jungle.

Subsequently several groups organized various expeditions to the crash site and in 2007 MHG (Malaya Historical Group) together with Ed Macy (former Apache pilot) and Clayton Ford (police detective) made another expedition to the crash site. In this expedition, they did a thorough excavation of the site and discovered many bone fragments as well as personal items such as rings, spectacles, coins, dagger, dog tag and a water canteen.

Later the bone fragments were DNA tested to confirm their identities and on 18 October 2012, the remains of the 8 crew members of Liberator KL654R, Flight Lieutenant John Selwyn Watts, 158017, Flying Officer Edward Donald Mason, 166082, Flying Officer William Kenneth Dovey, 166352, Flight Sergeant Jack Blakey, 1582692, Flight Sergeant William Ross, 2213814, Flight Sergeant Raymond Arthur Towell, 1624252, Flying Officer J.T. Bromfield, 166369 and Flight Sergeant A. Turner, 1621393 were buried with full military honours at the Cheras Road Cemetery ... 67 years after they crashed.

The RAF Liberator KL654R's crew members buried with full military honours (photo sourced from the internet)
Now, about the trek ... from fellow trekkers we heard that there is a trail leading to the Liberator’s crash site and after gathering more information from the internet, we learned the trail starts from the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk, a mountain in Negeri Sembilan. So, on the 6th of July, 2013 we decided to make an attempt to trek to the crash site.

Let me tell how to get to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk first. Take the LEKAS highway, head towards Ampangan and after getting out of Ampangan toll plaza drive pass Pantai and you will be driving on Route 86 heading towards Jelebu (Kuala Klawang).

Welcome to Jelebu District sign
On this route, look out for a small red Chinese temple by the road side on the left. As soon as you see the temple, slow down and about half a kilometer uphill, you will see a sign welcoming you to the Jelebu district ...TURN RIGHT HERE. Once you turned right, just before the sign, you will see a road going uphill ... this is the road to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk.

Road going up to the peak
Now, this road is 12km long all the way up and it is not a well maintained road so a 4-wheel drive vehicle will be very ideal ... if not, I suggest you drive an old car which you are not too worried when it is thumped by thuds and bumps on the long way up.

It takes about 40 minutes to drive carefully up to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk ... once you reached the peak you will see a few telecommunication towers and at the end of the road, right in front of you, there is an army facility which you are not allow to go further. There are painted oil barrels blocking the road and the facility is guarded by soldiers.

The trail starts from the left side of the fenced up telecommunication tower
Park your car here and you will see a fenced up telecommunication tower at the side of the road. If you are facing at the fenced up tower, the trail starts just on the left the tower, along the fence. Once you go in along the fence, you will get into the jungle and the trail starts downwards.

Fallen trees along the way
OK, back to the trek ... from what we heard, this trail is full of leeches ... so we came prepared and well ‘sprayed” all over with tobacco water and Baygon but my favorite is still MossiGuard ... proven to be very effective against leeches.

As we are trekking from the peak, we started downwards, beginning with a long slope. Then the trail evens out a bit before it comes to another slope. After that, the undulating trail goes up and down crossing a few valleys. There are plastic ribbon markers left by previous trekkers but because all of us were first timers to this trail, we left a paper trail as an additional safety measure. The trek was quite easy as we were mainly trekking downwards and apart from a few fallen trees and stubborn scrubs there were no major obstacles along the way. The cooling mountain breeze also reduced the humidity and made the trek a lot more enjoyable. Also, on this day, the birds were particularly merrier entertaining us with chirps and whistles all morning.

For most of the journey, we trek along the side of valleys and as we get deeper, we walked in the middle of ridges. Old school trekkers like us don’t carry gadgets ... so by experience we guessed (errr ... accuracy not guaranteed ya) we must have trekked about 7km after walking for about an hour and forty minutes when we came to a clear open area in the middle of a ridge.

Part of the aircraft's wing
We were told the location of the crash site is very near this open area. So, we started to look around and very soon, we saw it ... on the left just about 3 meters down the ridge, we saw a metal structure embedded into the ground and though rather battered, we can see that it is a section of the crashed aircraft’s wing. Then we saw a trail on the right of the open area ... this is the trail that leads to the main wreckage of the RAF Liberator KL654R at the bottom of the valley. The plane was believed to have hit a tree, broke a wing which was embedded on one side of the ridge and the rest of the plane crashed into the valley on the other side of the ridge.

The plane's tyre ... still inflated
We then trekked down about a hundred meters to the main wreckage and along the way we saw many metal airplane parts scattered everywhere. We can see this site has been cleared by previous visitors as it was quite easy to move along the wreckage looking at the various huge remnants of the RAF Liberator KL654R ... we saw what used to be the fuselage, a tyre which is still inflated (war plane tyres are inflated or solid?) and many other parts which we are not familiar with. There is a small stream (which is said to be the source and beginning of Sungai Muar) and moving along the stream we saw more parts of the wreckage ... a tail section of the plane with its ‘R’ alphabet, melted aluminium chunks (which give an idea how hot it must have burned when the plane crashed) and many other metal and aluminium parts of the plane.

The tail section of the plane

A part of the fuselage

Various parts of of the plane scattered around the crash site

We spent 45 exciting minutes looking around the wreckage and taking many photos of this historic crash site. Though we were all talking excitedly about the wreckage, I am very sure that there was a silent moment in our hearts where we pay tribute to the 8 crew members who perished in this unfortunate event.

A photo opportunity at the historic crash site

Checking out the wreckage

This is a huge part of the fuselage

Looking around the crash site

Taking plenty of photos

Group photo (L-R) ... Leong, Hoh, Choon Lan, Ooi, Shiek, Keat, Ms Yap and Ah Seng

 Then it was time to leave ... we climbed up to the open area and after a short rest and a quick bite, we then started to trek out of the jungle. By now it was already noon and the jungle air began to heat up and getting humid. We needed more rest stops as we were all quite tired trekking upwards to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk. It was a tough return leg ... especially the last couple of long upwards stretches. The first few of us took more than two hours to get out of the jungle and by the time we reached our vehicles, we were exhausted ... it took another twenty minutes for rest of the group to make it out safely.

After taking off our trekking gears and a short rest, we drove to a water source about halfway down for good cool wash and freshen up. By the time we cleaned ourselves, our empty stomachs were asking to be filled. As usual, a good exercise deserves a good reward ... wasting no time, we drove to Seremban town for a well-known delicious bowl of fish ball noodle.

On our way home, though quite tired, we were still talking excitingly about our trek. Not only did we spend a good day trekking and enjoying the nature ... we also visited a historic place, experienced a piece of its history and have a great story to tell our family and friends.

You know what? Gunung Telapak Buruk is definitely another mountain on my favorite trekking list.

8 comments:

mostly zeros said...

Interesting journey. Wish I have your guts to undertake such mountain climbs. Carry on doing what you're doing.

Stone Shiek said...

Thanks for spending time on my blog ... I am sure you can also trek if you want to ... really, our treks are not those extreme jungle activities ... just simple recreational hikes on existing trails in the various popular mountains around the country :)

skillet said...

silly question to ask, any possibility to make an overnight camp there?

Stone Shiek said...

YES Skillet ... one can camp at the site ... I know trekkers have stayed overnight there.

There is a small clearing at the ridge in between the crashed wing (left side) and the main crash site (down in the valley on the right. One can set up a tent here.

A a water source (small river) can be found at the main crash site but on some days it can dry up ... so it will be wise to bring water to the site. Have fun !

dasendru said...

Hi..thx for sharing...appreciate it...really looking fwd..

can i say... abt 3 hrs up..and 3 hrs down for beginner...

Shiek Eng Meng said...

Hi ... the trek is downhill first as one need to drive up to the peak of Gunung Telapak Buruk and trek down from there.

Timing is very subjective ... it all depends on individual trekker and also the trail condition ... currently it is the raining season, so the trail can get wet and slippery ... would be difficult then and might take longer.

So please trek safe and beware of leeches ... plenty of these bloodsuckers ... so prepare leech sprays and insecticides.

Not sure if other trekkers have been to the site recently ... the trail could be hidden with overgrowth ... please look carefully and it will be wise to mark the trail properly for safety measures.

And as advised by other trekkers before us, take nothing and leave nothing at the site ... give due respect to the lost air crews.

Trek safe.

Lorien Holland said...

Good afternnon Shiek, I recently found this trekking account from a friend of mine and I am really looking forward to trekking there in early April. Its such a great trail. Could I ask you if you have any suggestions for other good trekking reasonably near to KL? I dont mind hard, but I really dont know where to look to find good treks on peninsular Malaysia.
Thanks so much for posting, and I liked your other posts too.

Shiek Eng Meng said...

Hi Lorien ... thanks for spending time on my blog ... good to get to know another fellow trekker.

There a a few trekking trails outskirt of KL ... one of my favourite will be Bukit Kutu ... a small mountain about one and a half drive from KL just after the Kuala Kubu town.

You can read about it here :

http://shiekblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/bukit-kutu-interesting-story-from.html

http://shiekblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/trekking-bukit-kutu.html

There is also a long trekking trail going up the highest mountain in Selangor state ... also about one and a half hour drive from KL in a small town called Hulu Langat. Read here :

http://shiekblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/rescue-drama-at-gunung-nuang-01nov2008.html

Another good short trail will be Gunung Angsi in Ulu Bendul ... but this is about 2 hours drive from KL. Read here :

http://shiekblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/4-men-and-coconut-tree.html

There are others trails which I have trekked but mostly are quite far from KL.

By the way ... where are you from?

When you are in KL and if timing is right, maybe you can join my group for trekking ... we trek almost every Saturday, mostly one day outing.

My email is shiekstone@gmail.com

Cheers and have a good day :)

Thanks again for spending time on my blog :)


Regards
Shiek