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  B-17D Flying Fortress Serial Number 40-3089  
USAAF
13th AF
5th BG
11th BS

Pilot  Captain William Cherry, Jr. (survived)
Co-Pilot  Lt. Whittaker (survived)
Navigator  Lt. De Angelis (survived)
Crew
 Sgt Reynolds (survived)
Crew
 Private John Bartek (survived)
Crew  Sgt Alex (died 13th day)
Crew  Lt. Whitaker (survived)
Passenger  Col. Hans C. Adamson (survived)
Passenger
 Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker
(survived)
Ditched  October 21, 1942
MACR  900 and 802

Aircraft History
Built by Boeing at Seattle. Assigned to the USAAF, 13th Air Force, 5th Bombardment Group, 11th Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname.

Mission History
Edward V. "Eddie" Rickenbacker was sent on a tour of the Pacific theater to review conditions, operations, and to personally deliver a secret message to General MacArthur.

Took off from Hawaii, bound for Canton Airfield. Went off course due to a navigation error due to an out-of-true octant. damaged in a pre-takeoff incident. The bomber ditched at sea.

Search
Afterwards, the U. S. Army searched for more than two weeks, but failed to find anything. Rickenbacker's wife convinced them to extend the search another week. The press reported that Rickenbacker had died.

Fates of the Crew
The seven crew used two life rafts. Rickenbacker still suffered from the airline crash, his friend Hans Adamson sustained serious injuries in the water landing, and others in the crew were hurt to varying degrees.

The crew's food supply ran out after three days. They drifted at sea without food or water aside from an occasional fish and rain. On Day 8 a seagull landed on Rickenbacker's head, and he caught it and the men meticulously divided it equally and used some for fishing bait.

On the 13th day, Sgt Alex died and was buried at sea, leaving only six survivors.

Rickenbacker assumed a role of leadership, encouragement, and browbeating to help the others survive, and encouraged them to turn to the Lord for solace (Psalm 46). According to Rickenbacker, each person on the rafts converted to Christianity after the experience.

Three of the survivors: Whittaker, De Angelis and Reynolds decided to separated and departed together. Later, they made landfall on a small island and found an abandoned native hut. Later, they were found by natives and taken to an English missionary on the island, until rescued later by a US Navy tender.

On the 17th day, they saw an aircraft, but it failed to spot them. More planes were spotted on the 18th and 19th days, but they failed to spot them. On the 20th day, Cherry choose to take his raft and separated.

Rescue
U.S. Navy pilots located the surviving crew members off the coast of Island X near Samoa. A Navy patrol plane spotted Lt. Cherry on the evening of the twenty-first day, November 12 and a PT Boat rescued him.

Twenty-two days after the crash, on November 13 an OS2U Kingfisher piloted by Lt. W. F. Eadie and radioman L. H. Boutte spotted the raft with Rickenbacker, Bartek and Adamson and landed. Already dark, the Kingfisher loaded Bartek inside the cockpit. Rickenbacker and Adamson were strapped to the wing. The Kingfisher taxied on the surface for more than 30 minutes to a nearby PT Boat, where Rickenbacker and Adamson were transferred.

All were suffering from exposure, dehydration, and starvation and recuperated. Rickenbacker completed his assignment and delivered MacArthur's secret message. No one ever made the message in public. This accident later resulted in improved navigation tools for aircraft, and improved survival gear.

References
MACRs 900 and 802 incorrectly list the loss date as October 2, 1942.
"Seven Came Through" by Eddie Rickenbacker
LIFE Magazine "Rickenbacker Rescue" Dec 7, 1942
LIFE Magazine "Pacific Mission - part II" by Edward Rickenbacker Feb 1, 1943
LIFE Magazine "Pacific Mission - part III" by Edward Rickenbacker. Vol 14 No. 6 8 Feb 1943

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Last Updated
February 23, 2014

 

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B-17
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