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  B-24J-190-CO Liberator Serial Number 44-40979  
USAAF
5th AF
43rd BG
403rd BS

Pilot  2nd Lt. Robert S. Clark, O-775795 (WIA, survived)
Co-Pilot  2nd Lt. Harold L. Bernstein, O-816400 (WIA, survived)
Navigator  1st Lt. Godfrey A. Lewis, O-698208 (WIA, survived)
Bombardier  2nd Lt Emerson A. Young, O-699086 (survived)
Engineer  TSgt Madison R. Skeen, Jr., 14149569 (KIA, BR) NC
Asst  Engineer  TSgt Clarence L. Clark, 39310852 (KIA, BR) WA
Radio  TSgt Joseph A. Kernan, Jr., 34076398 (KIA, BR) LA
Asst Radio  SSgt James A. Keenan, 12047186 (KIA, BR) NJ
Gunner  SSgt Ancle A. Alexander, 37073183 (KIA, BR) NB
Tail Gunner  SSgt Mero A. Chludil, 16149944 (WIA, survived)
Photographer  Pvt Richard V. Buchanan, 18125504 (KIA, BR) TX

Crashed  March 7, 1945
MACR  14144

Aircraft History
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors Number 4915. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Ferried oversea via Hawaii to the South West Pacific.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 403rd Bombardment Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. When lost, engines R-1830-43 serial numbers BP-440450, 42-3220, BP-444134 and BP-40979. Aboard were .50 caliber machine guns serial numbers 9538694, 1202296, 1202548, 1538673, 1254229, 1253248, 942761, 943360, 1538217, 1538374.

Mission History
On March 7, 1945 at 8:00am took off from Tacloban Airfield on Leyte armed with eight 1,000 lb. bombs on a bombing mission against Balete Pass. Weather was local cumulus clouds over the Caraballo Mountains with a base at 4,200' and tops at 6,500' and 9/10 coverage. Over the target, the formation attempted to get below the clouds to bomb, but made only a dry run. Last seen at 10:15am at roughly Lat 16° 5' N Long 120° 53' E.

Last seen by SSgt James O. McNair aboard another B-24 in the formation (via MACR 14144 page 5:
"I looked back after we had cleared the mountain and saw a plane, apparently broken into [sic], falling down the side of the mountain (B-24J #44-40979). I called the pilot on the interphone and by that time the plane was lost in the trees below. The last things I saw was a cloud of smoke floating up."

In fact, this B-24 was following the flight leader and entered a cloud and began instrument flying. At 10:50am this bomber impacted a mountain at 5,400' roughly ten miles south-west of Balete Pass. The charts showed this mountain to only be 5,000'. The bomber stalled out and impacted trees then slid down the side of the mountain, breaking up and catching fire. At the time of the crash, the bombs came loose, two rolled down the mountainside and exploded. Also lost was B-24L Liberator 44-41481.

Search
After the crash, ground station near the scene of the crash advised the flight leader that a U. S. Army search patrol would be sent out immediately. The name of the person tasked with the search or the extent of search made is unknown.

From the air, B-24s from the 403rd BS conducted an aerial search of the area including barrio Tayug, Santa Rose, Santa Fe and Conversion near the junction of Nueva Ecija Province, Nueva Vizcaya Province and Pangasinan Province. Between 6,000 to 9,000', the remains of this bomber were seen on a hillside with one vertical stabilizer still intact. A mirror was observed flashing in the vicinity on three occasions. Also three brown spots, possibly survivors were observed. At a group of huts, probably Maleco), cloth panels were observed forming a white cross in a clearing near huts and parachutes in trees. Supplies were drooped in response to these cloth panel signals. A search plane dropped a white chute with emergency rations and first aid equipment was dropped in the vicinity and it was apparently recovered.

Fates of the Crew
After the crash, the pilot Lt. Clark, co-pilot Lt. Bernstein, navigator Lt. Lewis survived the crash. Lt. Young was trapped in the nose section with his legs pinned, and was pulled free of the wreckage and carried clear of the wreckage with a broken leg and twisted knee and was given morphine. No other survivors were found. Lt. Lewis was able to remove some supplies from the wreckage including parachutes, a pack, a canteen and a couple medical kits.

Lt. Lewis began walking in search of help using his compass and a small map. The other survivors at the crash site waited for rescue and managed to signal searching B-24s with their mirrors. After four and half days of walking, Lt. Lewis crossed seven rivers and passed an empty Japanese camp site. Finally, he located soldiers from the U. S. Army 32nd Division and was given aid. Afterwards, he flew in an L-5 and spotted the wreckage and dropped supplies, but they rolled down the mountainside and were not retrievable.

Finally, a patrol from the U. S. Army 128th Infantry Regiment led by Lt. Hovious reached the crash site and reached the other three survivors on March 12, 1945. The survivors were given aid and were transported to a camp at the base of the mountain and rested. The bodies of the deceased crew were also recovered. On March 14, 1945 the patrol and survivors departed the area and arrived at the front lines on March 15, 1945 at 5pm.

In addition, tail gunner SSgt Chludil survived the crash in the tail turret. Knocked unconscious during the impact, the tail section broke off and was 1,000' away from the rest of the wreckage. When he awoke he gave himself first aid and spent the night on the mountain, but did not locate the other survivors. On March 8, he searched the crash site then departed down the mountain alone. He observed C-47s and started a fire to attract their attention, but wasn't spotted. The next day, he started another fire to signal a B-24 that acknowledge it with a red light. At 3:00pm, he observed and signaled an L-5 and overnighted in an abandoned grass hut. On March 10, departed to the west towards grass plains and on March 11 spotted two Filipinos and a U. S. outpost of D Company, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division where he was given food and first aid. On March 12, he arrived at their headquarters at 4pm and was turned over to the 19th Air Support Party and was reunited with Lt. Lewis who had also survived the crash and left in search of help.

Memorial
The crew that died in the crash were officially declared dead the day of the mission. After the recovery of remains, two of the crew were buried at Manila American Cemetery. Clark was buried at at plot D row 16 grave 204. Buchanan plot F row 5 grave 47.

Skeen is buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, NC.
Kernan is buried at Saint Theresa of Avila Catholic Cemetery in Gonzale, LA.
Keenan is buried at Arlington Cemetery in Pennsauken, NJ.

References
Missing Air Crew Report 14144 (MACR 14144)
Col. James Pettus' Manuscript, Commander of the 43rd Bomb Group, edited by Jim Cherkauer, page 75
"March 7, 1945. It was a bad day for the strike squadrons and the 403rd in particular. The target was ground support near Balete Pass and the weather was not good. The planes tried to get below the clouds and fly up the valley that was narrow. The planes could not turn after "bombs away" and thus tried to climb to clear the overcast and the surrounding hills. Tragically two 403rd planes hit the mountains. One of those planes, #979 [sic #481], hit the hill squarely and exploded killing all on aboard. The other plane, #481 [sic #979], struck the very top of the ridge in a full stall so that the forward section fell on one side and the tail section on the other side. Amazingly 5 men survived this crash."
KensMen - T/Sgt Loren C. "Red" Bates
"But the saddest memory I have is losing our two wing aircraft by accident during a mission [March 7, 1945] over Luzon. Perhaps this is because our Navigator and Co-Pilot were aboard the one lost on our left wing. Our target was Belete Pass and we were bombing Japanese Soldiers on the ground. We had a heavy load of anti personnel bombs. There were six aircraft on the mission stacked in two elements of three each. We were lead aircraft of the back element. I can remember very clearly that we were specifically warned at the briefing about the 6000 feet mountain peaks we would have to climb over after leaving the target. On the first pass we found the target overcast so we were ordered to make another go around and let down lower. Still not being able to find the target on the second pass the lead aircraft ordered another go around and to let down still lower. Lt. Bauer radioed the lead aircraft warning about being to low because we in the back were stacked still lower. On the third pass we found the target still overcast and attempted another go around. I was in the back with the gunners observing out of the hatch as we climbed out and saw the B-24 on our right wing stall out, spirling to the ground. About that time the left gunner said look over here; there we say the B-24 on our left wing hit the mountain top. The plane literally busted in half with one half rolling down one side of the mountain and the other half down the other side. Now you can imagine how close we came to hitting the mountain. Our nose gunner said he braced for impact. Our Navigator and Co-Pilot both survied the crash and excaped through enemy lines and our own m!ine fields to find our Infantry. Both returned to fly with us again. Three others also survived the crash of that plane but all were lost on the crash of the B-24 that stalled out off our right wing."
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Clarence L. Clark
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Richard V. Buchanan death date listed as July 5, 1945
FindAGrave - Madison R Skeen, Jr (grave photo)
FindAGrave - TSgt Clarence L Clark (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Sgt Joseph Adam Kernan, Jr (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt James A Keenan (photo)
FindAGrave - Sgt Ancle A Alexander (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Corp Richard V Buchanan date of death incorrectly listed as July 5, 1945

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

Tech Information
B-24

Map
16° 5' N
120° 53' E

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