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25th Liaison Squadron
Eugene A. Salternik, 20919799 (survived)
Crashed February 14, 1944
Roughly 60 miles north, Salternik was the first to spotted the burning P-40 wreckage. He observed a grass field suitable for landing about a mile from the crash site. In fact, the field was covered with 6'-8' tall kunai grass. Unable to abort his landing, the tall grass caused his aircraft to flip over, breaking the propeller. Salternik was unhurt in the crash landing. He searched for Flack until nightfall, but was unable locate him and remained with his crashed aircraft overnight.
Eugene Salternik recalled:
On February 21, 1944 two additional aircraft landed, the first L-5 "Termite" 42-98085 piloted by SSgt James D. Nichols landed but was damaged beyond repair. Next, L-5 piloted by TSgt Thomas Stallone successfully landed in the clearing, but was unable to take off carrying any additional passengers. He took off solo and departed unable to help those on the ground. After the loss of so mant rescue aircraft, the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group decided no more planes could be risked in the "Flack Incident".
On the ground, the group of four lead by Henstridge began walking 35 miles in dense jungle to rendezvous with an Australian patrol. After departing, other L-5's were unable to locate the group and all were declared Missing In Action (MIA) and the search was abandoned. On March 3, 1944 after ten days in the jungle, the group ran out of food, forcing them to scrounge nuts and fish from the jungle and streams. All contracted malaria and lost 20-35 pounds each during the trek.
On March 10, 1944 they encountered an Australian Army patrol, who were pursuing Japanese troops who were also searching for them. Taken to a shelter to recover, on March 12, 1944 they were evacuated from Faita Airfield aboard a RAAF Walrus back to Gusap Airfield.
Afterwards, the Henstridge was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross, and the two L-5 pilots, Salternik and Nichols were awarded the Silver Star for their parts in saving P-40 pilot Nelson Flack. Flack got a Purple Heart for his injuries, and an Air Medal for the confirmed kill over a Tony that mission.
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