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|Pilot Major John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr., O-007466 C. O. VMF-422 (MIA / KIA) Collingswood, NJ
MIA January 25, 1944
Built by Chance-Vought. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN) as F4U-1A Corsair bureau number 17945. Disassembled and shipped to Oahu.
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC), Marine Air Group 22 (MAG-22), Marine Fighting Squadron 422 "Flying Buccaneers" VMF-422. No known squadron number, nickname or nose art. This Corsair was flown from Ewa Field to Ford Island Airfield. On January 16, 1944 one of twenty-four Corsairs from VMF-422 loaded aboard USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68).
On January 24, 1944 took off from USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) within sight of Tarawa (Betio) then landed at Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field).
On January 25, 1944 took off at 9:45am from Tarawa Airfield (Hawkins Field) piloted by Major John S. Mac Laughlin, Jr. leading a ferry flight of twenty-three Corsairs from VMF-422 bound for Nanumea Airfield then the second phase of the flight would be to Funafuti Airfield for use during "Operation Flintlock" in the Marshall Islands. One Corsair did not take off due to starter trouble.
On take off, the weather was good with cumulus clouds at 1,500' and 3/10 overcast. The flight proceeded without a navigational escort. The formation flew in three flights wide spread and were scheduled to reach Nanumea Airfield after 2 hours 30 minutes at 12:25pm.
By 12:10pm the formation was flying at an altitude of 2,000' when they encountered a weather front that developed into a violent tropical storm. Visibility was so poor no forward visibility was possible and the formation descended to sea level.
When the rest of the formation exited the storm, five Corsairs were separated: F4U Corsair 18024 piloted by Captain John F. Rogers, F4U Corsair 18025 piloted by 1st Lt Earl C. Thompson, F4U Corsair 17833 1st Lt. Robert P. Moran, F4U piloted by W. A. Wilson and F4U piloted by J. E. Hansen were separated and radio contact was maintained with three including Moran.
At 12:18pm roughly seven minutes minutes from reaching their destination, the remainder of the flight encountered another severe weather front, possibly a continuation of the first. Confused and lost, the Corsairs flew at full throttle to maintain contact with the flight leaders and the storm prevented them from flying in formation properly and required violent maneuvering and changes in throttle.
At 12:45pm Mac Laughlin radioed the formation he made contact with the Funafuti radio beam and they were halfway between Nanumea and Funafuti. The storm's intensity again increased causing additional navigational difficult and interfered with radio communications and Captain C. R. Jeans flew in front of this aircraft to attract the Mac Laughlin's attention and informed him he would lead the flight back to Nui Island.
During the rain squalls, this Corsair was last observed flying in and out of rain squalls on a course at a tangent to the rest of the flight. His two wingmen, Lt. J. C. Flood and Lt. J. W. Lincoln climbed to 16,000' in an attempt to keep the Major in view and the formation but last observed him disappear into a thick overcast and he was never seen again. When this Corsair failed to arrive it was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA).
In total, twenty-two of the Corsairs in the formation ditched or went missing. Afterwards, it was deemed the flight was a failure because the flight proceeded with an outdated weather forecast and because Brigadier General Lewie G. Merritt failed to authorize an escort plane with a navigator nor did his staff alert the destination to about their intended arrival to provide radio assistance or aid in rescue efforts.
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