The Airmen and the Headhunters

Behind the Scenes Gallery

See archival images, stills from reenactments, and images of the men today who lived “The Airmen and the Headhunters”.

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Dan Illerich pictured with his B-24 Liberator bomber crew – “The Coberly Crew,” who were shot down over Borneo in 1944. The downed airmen were rescued and protected from the Japanese by headhunting members of the Dayak tribe.

Dan Illerich pictured with his B-24 Liberator bomber crew

Dan Illerich pictured with his B-24 Liberator bomber crew – “The Coberly Crew,” who were shot down over Borneo in 1944. The downed airmen were rescued and protected from the Japanese by headhunting members of the Dayak tribe.
Pictured are some of the Dayaks who protected the US airmen and fought the Japanese in Borneo during World War Two.

Some of the Dayaks

Pictured are some of the Dayaks who protected the US airmen and fought the Japanese in Borneo during World War Two.
Tom Harrisson (in a rare wartime photograph) - the British Major who devised an audacious rescue plan to get the US airmen out of Borneo.

Tom Harrisson

Tom Harrisson (in a rare wartime photograph) - the British Major who devised an audacious rescue plan to get the US airmen out of Borneo.
British Major Tom Harrisson and some of his Australian commandoes on the bamboo airstrip in June, 1945. Harrison and his men launched an audacious rescue plan to get the US airmen out of Borneo. On the right of the flagpoles is the head of a senior Japanese official, brought to Harrisson as a gift from one of the local headmen.

British Major Tom Harrisson and some of his Australian commandoes

British Major Tom Harrisson and some of his Australian commandoes on the bamboo airstrip in June, 1945. Harrison and his men launched an audacious rescue plan to get the US airmen out of Borneo. On the right of the flagpoles is the head of a senior Japanese official, brought to Harrisson as a gift from one of the local headmen.
An reenactment scene of downed American Airmen meeting Dayak tribesmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo.

An reenactment scene of downed American Airmen meeting Dayak tribesmen

An reenactment scene of downed American Airmen meeting Dayak tribesmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo.
An reenactment scene of downed American airmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo

An reenactment scene of downed American airmen

An reenactment scene of downed American airmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo
US WWII veteran, Dan Illerich, the sole surviving downed airmen rescued by the Dayak tribesmen pictured with a L-3 Aeronca, a lightaircrft similar to the plane in which he was rescued from Borneo.

US WWII veteran, Dan Illerich

US WWII veteran, Dan Illerich, the sole surviving downed airmen rescued by the Dayak tribesmen pictured with a L-3 Aeronca, a lightaircrft similar to the plane in which he was rescued from Borneo.
WWII veteran Bob Long, one of the Australian Commandoes of Semut1, Z Special Unit lead by Major Tom Harrison who helped rescue downed airmen in Borneo. Long worked as a radio operator with Dan Illerich.

WWII veteran Bob Long

WWII veteran Bob Long, one of the Australian Commandoes of Semut1, Z Special Unit lead by Major Tom Harrison who helped rescue downed airmen in Borneo. Long worked as a radio operator with Dan Illerich.
WWII veteran Sergeant Jack Tredrea, one of the Australian Commandoes of Semut 1, Z Special Unit led by Major Tom Harrison to rescue downed airmen in Borneo. Tredrea lead and trained guerilla forces to fight against the Japanese.

WWII veteran Sergeant Jack Tredrea

WWII veteran Sergeant Jack Tredrea, one of the Australian Commandoes of Semut 1, Z Special Unit led by Major Tom Harrison to rescue downed airmen in Borneo. Tredrea lead and trained guerilla forces to fight against the Japanese.
Belaan Ayu, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.

Belaan Ayu

Belaan Ayu, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Melayung Ulun, one of the Dayak tribesmen and Major Tom Harrison’s assistant who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.

Melayung Ulun

Melayung Ulun, one of the Dayak tribesmen and Major Tom Harrison’s assistant who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Belapang Baru, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII

Belapang Baru

Belapang Baru, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII
Malai Ruguk, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.

Malai Ruguk

Malai Ruguk, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Ganang Laban, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.

Ganang Laban

Ganang Laban, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.
Kapung Balang, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.

Kapung Balang

Kapung Balang, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.
Judith Heimann, historian and author of The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War.

Judith Heimann

Judith Heimann, historian and author of The Airmen and the Headhunters: A True Story of Lost Soldiers, Heroic Tribesmen and the Unlikeliest Rescue of World War.