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  P-38H-1-LO Lightning Serial Number 42-66538 Tail 180
USAAF
5th AF
475th FG
433rd FS

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Bill Thompson 1980

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Pacific Ghosts 2001

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Gary Larkins 2002

Pilot  2nd Lt. John Clay Smith, O-736392 (survived) Portsmith, OH
Force Landed  September 2, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66538. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 475th Fighter Group, 433rd Fighter Squadron. No known nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On September 2, 1943 took off from Dubodura Airfield on a mission to escort B-25 Mitchells attacking Wewak. Over the target, Smith claimed two enemy aircraft shot down, a Ki-43 Oscar and an unknown twin engined aircraft. After the air combat, Smith got lost and thought he was flying south of Wewak, and believed his compass was faulty. He then attempted reach Marilinan and was in contact with Benabena via radio but became lost, ran out of fuel and force landed in a swamp near Arufi near the Fly River. During the landing, the P-38 impacted several small trees before but was otherwise undamaged.

Fate of the Pilot
Unhurt in the landing, Smith attempted to remove the plane's gun camera, so he would have the footage of his two claims to get credit for when he returned to base. He then walked for two days before reaching the Wassi Kussa River, and followed it to the Gulf of Papua. After locating a l villager who took him to a small island, and told him about a radio outpost on Saibai Island and together, they departed in a small boat for the island on a trip that took 36 hours.

On Saibai Island two Australian wireless operators greeted him and radioed for a RAAF Catalina to transport him to Port Moresby arriving on September 15, 1943. Smith was admitted to the 161st Evacuation Hospital and released on September 21, and flown to his unit at Dubodura Airfield that afternoon. After returning to duty, e was instructed to write a full report of about his escape. Afterwards, Smith returned to flying duty but was killed on November 9, 1943 piloting P-38 42-66596.

Wreckage
Until March 2002, the wreckage of this P-38 remained in situ in kunai grass where it force landed near Arufi. After the crash, the machine guns were removed by an Australian Patrol Officer (kiap) in the area.

Sandy Brown reports:
"I visited the P-38 at Arufe, Papua New Guinea in October 1985. The plane was put down in a swamp. When I visited the area was above the river level and in what is known as savanna grassland. The trees that damaged the plane on its forced landing were no longer evident and new trees have grown around it. The solid steel armor plate was being used as a church bell in Arufe village at the time. I was told that the machine guns were removed from the plane by Australian Government Patrol officers who took them as souvenirs."

Other salvagers visited the wreck over the years, including Robert Jarret in the first half of 2001 and Gary Larkins in 2002, but took only photos.

Recovery
During 2002, the nearly complete P-38 was illegally recovered by "Rex Barber", cut into pieces with a gas torch, and shipped to Lae. During March 2002, the aircraft was impounded before being exported to Australia. Sadly, this once aircraft had both wings and boom hastily and unprofessionally cut to expedite the illegal recovery. Since being impounded, the contain has since disappeared, and its whereabouts are unknown. At the time, the theft of this stolen aircraft under investigation by PNG authorities. Afterwards, the wreckage was illegally exported or otherwise disappeared from Lae. The fate or location of this aircraft today is unknown.

References
Plans to Steal P-38H Lightning 42-66538 Foiled 2002
Possum Clover and Hades reports Smith's force landing
Flightpath Magazine Arufi P-38 article by Michael Claringbould

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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P-38

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