On 26 Jan 1943, Lt Gen Shimoda[i], the Commander of the IJA’s 2nd Railway Construction Division, took off from Don Muang airfield for an inspection tour of the TBR. His entourage is said to consist of 9, including the plane’s crew.
As they came over the Three Pagodas Pass area, the plane turned to begin the return leg. Then one engine failed and the plane was unable to clear the height of the mountain. It is said to have crashed on the west side of the Mayan Tong Mountain in Burma. There was only one survivor and his story has been retold with some variations ever since.
That survivor was named Sakurai[ii] the plane’s pilot. He describes one wing dipping low and striking the top of a very tall tree which ripped off that wing and spun the fuselage to the ground. He was thrown out of the cockpit and into a tree from which he was able to climb down without serious injury. When the fuselage crashed nearby, it exploded into flames. One other person (unidentified by name) staggered out of the wreckage but was badly burned.
Sakurai describes how he tried to carry that soldier but it was very hard going on the mountain side. As night fell, they thought that they were being stalked by a tiger. The wounded soldier convinced Sakurai to leave him behind and try to find help. That soldier was never seen again.
Search parties were dispatched but they were hampered by a lack of information about the actual location of the crash as well as the mountainous terrain. They searched for weeks without result. Some reports say that they were even on the wrong side of the mountain; the Thai side. Meanwhile Sakurai was wandering aimlessly not fully knowing where he was or where to go for help. A month passed without any meeting of the searchers with Sakurai or the plane. Finally, when a searcher fired his rifle at an animal in the jungle, Sakurai heard that report and shouted back. After a short time, the searchers found him by following his shouts. He was in terrible physical shape, uninjured but nearly starved from living off the land and finding water in the vegetation.
There is still controversy and mystery surrounding that crash. A villager found some wreckage that included an engine, part of a wing and various metal parts. Over time, he managed to drag them out of the jungle, but attempts by IJA officials to return to the site were never successful. The recovered parts were sent to Bangkok and for a long time were housed in the Railway Museum in the Chatuchak area. But that museum closed in 2012 and the whereabouts of those plane parts is currently unknown.
Part of the controversy has to do with the type of plane Shimoda flew in. Some accounts describe it was a medium bomber converted for passenger conveyance. But some records suggest that the plane parts at the museum were from a smaller two-engine plane. So it is entirely possible that the parts delivered were from a completely different plane and event. This was after all war time and aerial combat in the area along the Thai-Burma border was not unknown if not exactly common.
Another aspect of the found items is that the villager was a Thai, a Mr. Jinda. It is unlikely that he would have been dragging heavy metals parts from the Burmese side of the mountain. So did the plane actually crash on the Thai side or is this simply not the Shimoda’s plane? Since it was wartime, no forensic analysis was recorded for those parts to precisely identify the type of plane or match it to Shimoda’s. Speaking for this being the wreck of interest is that Jinda described finding broken swords that these senior IJA officers may very well have been wearing. Unless and until the actual crash site is re-discovered in modern times – or perhaps two different sites on two sides of the mountain, these mysteries will never be solved. One hope is that as the Railway authorities prepare to take over the historic Hualampong Railway Station and turn it into a museum, they may uncover the missing WW2-era plane parts in some long-forgotten storage area. The IJA kept meticulous records and some where there are probably serial numbers and data that could ID Shimada’s plane.
[i] Lt Gen Shimoda’s name is variously recorded as Nobuo or Senriki.
[ii] Some sources list his name as Sakurai Sakurai (same first and last name)
Here are photos of the recovered plane parts taken at the now closed Railway Museum:
I wish to thank my associate, Thansawath Saranyathadawong, for developing this story as I relate above.