380th Bomb Group Association
Newsletter 36 ~ Fall 2008
FORCED LANDING IN THE OUTBACK
By Arvid ("Olie") Olson
For some reason unknown to me as an enlisted man, Hy Haves, the navigator on Spencer's crew in the 528th, and I, the radio operator, were assigned to fly from Mindoro Island in the Philippines to Brisbane, Australia. This was a pick-up crew from several different crews in the 380th. Apparently we were to be a courier carrying papers to 5th Air Corps HQ. We were using a B-25 instead of our usual B-24. Because of its shorter range, we had to island hop.
Our first stop was the island of Peleliu. Because of low cloud cover of almost 50%, we flew right over it without seeing it. Hy realized we were past the ETA for the island and asked me to get a radio fix (a triangulation radio report from three widely separated ground stations). We then simply made a 180-degree turn and soon landed. Peleliu was a good reason to be in the Army Air Corps and not in the Infantry or Marines. The shelling destruction was unbelievable. The Japanese had had time to build thick concrete fortifications and had fought from these and deep caves with artillery and small arms right off the beaches.
The next morning we took off for Lae, New Guinea. We reached it in the afternoon. The pilot and the co-pilot switched responsibilities because the co-pilot wanted to land a B-25 which he had never done before. The pilot, of course, then handled the radio for the control tower instructions. The landing was fine but the airfield seemed deserted. The pilot called in for transportation. Much later a truck finally appeared and we climbed aboard. The driver asked the pilot why we landed where we did. He said it was a taxi strip on an abandoned airfield about 10 miles from the one we were supposed to use!
In the morning we flew over the Owen Stanley mountains heading for Darwin. After hours of flying over nothing but water, Hy asked me to get a radio fix to check against his dead reckoning position. The fix showed us to be very far off course, almost impossibly far off course. From then on things went from bad to worse. (Later on we learned that the Darwin station had us confused with another plane. This must have been the case because I was never called in to explain my transmissions or in any way questioned or reprimanded for my role in the mix-up.) At one point I asked the ground station to give us a compass heading to their station. The reply was "you are right above the field, circle and land." When we looked down, there was nothing below us but water!
The pilot decided to fly a compass course which would put us over land and to search for Darwin from there. By this time, our gas supply was dangerously low. The pilot saw a long meadow ahead covered with long grass. He decided to make a wheels-down landing in the grass. He set the B-25 down gently and perfectly. When we rolled to a stop, we sank in the grass and soft mud up to the axles, and there we were stuck! I sent signals for a radio fix and relatively soon a single engine plane was circling overhead. They dropped a note telling us that a landing party would come out for us the next day.
We spent the rest of the day collecting water, as we were all very thirsty and had just a little water left in our canteens. The only water we could find in the immediate vicinity of the plane had to be spooned out of the hoof prints of cattle. I believe we used an empty oxygen bottle to store the water which we rationed carefully. The pilot had some halazon tablets in his parachute pack which he used to purify the water. Unknown to the rest of us, the co-pilot found some iodine in his pack which he poured into the container. Needless to say, the water was well purified. We slept in the plane rather uncomfortably and thirsty.
Just before dark the next day the rescue party arrived from Burrundie Cattle Station on whose land we were. Ted Cox, Fred Knowles, and Willie, a full-blooded aborigine, came on horseback with five extra horses but only three extra saddles. Willie never came into the circle of men or near the fire we had built when darkness fell. We offered to make tea by boiling the water in the container. I don't know who had the packet of tea in his kit. It was accepted gratefully by the rescuers who had been riding all day to reach us. Accepted and spat out when the halazon/iodine tasting tea reached their mouths! So without refreshment, we started out for Burrundie Station which was near the rail line to Darwin. I don't know if Ted or Fred owned or just managed the station, but it was immense. It extended from their house and buildings 35 miles to the sea and for 100 miles along the coast. Before we left the plane, I insisted that I had to blow up the IFF (Identification, Friend, or Foe). At radio school and elsewhere it had been drummed into us that radio operators would commit a very serious court martial offense if we abandoned a plane with the IFF intact. That was the only fun part of the whole trip!
We mounted the horses for the almost 35-mile horseback ride in the dark. Hy, the navigator, was from New York City, and I was from San Francisco. At least two of us were not experienced horsemen. The officers used the saddle horses, and the flight engineer and I rode bareback. Willie led; we followed in single file. Occasionally Fred or Ted would call out, "Where are you, Willie?" Willie never answered. He just took an extra draw on his cigarette and held it up over his head. We hadn't ridden more than 5 or10 minutes when we forded a river flowing up to the horses' bellies. So much for our hoarding of water! I recall that Hy got so saddle sore that he got off the horse and tried to walk, but the mud was so soft and sticky he had to get back on. We were really out of our element in the Outback!
Sometime in the daylight we arrived at the home buildings of Burrundie Station and were fed a large and very welcome meal. The next day we took the train to an installation near Darwin and waited for transportation back to Mindoro Island. I learned many years that that we were listed as MIA for a day or so.
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Last updated: 10/13/2008 05:13 PM