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 crewDan 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.
Some of the DayaksPictured are some of the Dayaks who protected the US airmen and fought the Japanese in Borneo during World War Two.
Tom HarrissonTom 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 commandoesBritish 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 tribesmenAn reenactment scene of downed American Airmen meeting Dayak tribesmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo.
An reenactment scene of downed American airmenAn reenactment scene of downed American airmen shot in Nanga Ulai, Sarawak, Borneo
US WWII veteran, Dan IllerichUS 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 LongWWII 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 TredreaWWII 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 AyuBelaan Ayu, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Melayung UlunMelayung Ulun, one of the Dayak tribesmen and Major Tom Harrison’s assistant who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Belapang BaruBelapang Baru, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII
Malai RugukMalai Ruguk, one of the Dayak tribesmen who helped rescued the downed American airmen during WWII.
Ganang LabanGanang Laban, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.
Kapung BalangKapung Balang, one of the young Dayak boys who saw the US bomber crash in the jungles of Borneo.
Judith HeimannJudith 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.