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  P-38H-5-LO "Mareelee II" Serial Number 42-66851 Tail 23
5th AF
35th FG
39th FS

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Widdis c1943

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Richard Leahy 2000

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Steve Cushman 2007

Pilot  Captain Charles P. Sullivan (survived) Eureka, IL
Force Landed  September 20, 1943 at 12:00pm
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 35th Fighter Group, 39th Fighter Squadron. Assigned to pilot Charles P. Sullivan. Nicknamed Mareelee II" his second aircraft named in honor of his wife. Tail number 23.

Mission History
On September 20, 1943 took off from 14-Mile Drome near Port Moresby one of sixteen P-38s on a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Wewak. Sullivan was leading a four plane flight over the target at 24,000'. South of Wewak he experienced engine trouble and was about to abort the mission. Turning back for base, his engine returned to normal, and rejoined the formation. Suddenly, he spotted an enemy fighter in his rear view mirror that opened fire before he could evade.

Charles Sullivan wrote in Faith Determination and a bit of Irish Luck:
"Instinctively, I shoved the P-38 into a violent dive, dropping my auxiliary gasoline tanks as I went. It was then that I felt the shudder of bullets striking my plane. He had bit my left engine, which began spraying oil that started a smoky fire. I raced for the clouds below at speeds of nearly 500 miles per hour. The plane shuddered and shook from the strain. I looked back. I was pulling away from the Japanese fighter, but he was still stalking me. Oil began to spray on my windshield, obscuring my vision. I thought about parachuting right then, but instead I cut off the flaming engine and feathered the propeller, which stopped the fan and turned the blades so they would cut through the air with minimum drag. The fire in the left engine went out and my windshield cleared - but the stalker was still with me."

Escaping into a cloud, Sullivan managed to evade the enemy fighter. Turing towards base on only one engine and without his radio to report his position. Around noon, he experienced problems with the right engine and force landed into the jungle, behind enemy lines.

Fate of the Pilot
During the landing, Sullivan sustained a cut to his scalp, and spent the rest of the day cutting a path to the nearest tree line and spent the night under the cover of trees. On the third day, he left the crash site and attempt to walk towards friendly lines.

After several days, he spotted a friendly plane but was unable to signal it. Locating native people in the jungle, he was taken to their village. Sullivan believed the natives were going to kill him and after an altercation, shot two of them and fled, evading angry villagers for two weeks.

Finally, he encountered an Australian Army patrol and was taken to Dumpu. A small liaison plane arrived to rescue him, but it suffered an engine problem and flipped over on landed, but no one aboard was hurt. The next day, Sullivan boarded a C-47 Dakota at Dumpu Airfield and was transported back to Port Moresby rejoining his unit on October 20, 1943, exactly 30 days after the force landing.

During 1993 or 1994 Max Ammer was the first outside to re-locate the crash site near Brahman. The wreck is in a swamp area and submerged for roughly half the year, filling the interior with sediment and mud. Only during the dry season is it possible to trek to the wreckage or land a helicopter in the vicinity. Over the years, other visitors have trekked to the crash site.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Charles P. Sullivan

USAF Aerial Victory Credits Air Force Historical Research - Charles Sullivan
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-38 Lightning Sullivan
Ghost Wings "A Journey Through Headhunter Country" by M. Claringbould & R. Leahy
Faith Determination and a bit of Irish Luck by Charles O'Sullivan
39th Fighter Squadron World War II Biographies - Charles O'Sullivan
Injury Slight - Please Advise documentary by Josh Baxter

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018


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