|Pilot 1st Lt Francis J. Pitonyak, O-661372 (MIA / KIA) Detroit, MI
Crashed October 28, 1943
Built by Bell in Buffalo, New York. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-39Q-5-BE Airacobra serial number 42-19987. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.
Assigned 5th Air Force, 8th Fighter Group, 36th Fighter Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. The tail section was painted white. When lost, engine: V-1710-85 serial number 42-98074. Armed with .50 caliber machine guns Kelsey Hayes serial number 661702, Savage serial number 507027, Savage serial number 506948, Savage serial number 506752 plus Colt 37mm cannon serial number 12304.
On October 28, 1943 at 3:10pm took off from 5 Mile Drome (Wards) near Port Moresby piloted by 1st Lt Francis J. Pitonyak on an armed patrol bound for the Nadzab area. The four plane flight was led by 1st Lt John J. Perkins. During the flight, the formation experienced a violent weather front with 100% overcast with visibility above overcast of twenty miles, and flew along the coast at 20,000' to avoid the weather.
The flight was was last seen 1st Lt John J. Perkins roughly 25 miles north of Bulldog in bad weather at approximately 4:10pm. Returning to base alone, P-39Q piloted by 1st Lt. Perkins periodically attempted to reach his flight by radio without result. At 5:05pm, he landed safely at 5 Mile Drome.
When this Airacobra failed to return, it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA). Also lost was P-39Q 42-20031 (MIA) and P-39Q 42-19959 (MIA).
The next day, two P-39s searched for 2.5 hours for the missing aircraft along the coast from Port Moresby to "Kermina" (Kerema) and inland to the mountain range. That same day, four other P-39s patrolling the Bulldog area also looked for the lost planes. On October 30, an A-24 searched the mountains beyond Bulldog and Kokoda Pass area. Also, a PBY Catalina searched for the missing planes along the coast to the Fly River but failed to find anything. On October 31, one A-24 Dive Bomber and two P-39 Airacobras continued to search, but found nothing.
In fact, this aircraft crashed north of Uralau near the Lakekamu River two thirds of the way way towards Bulldog. This aircraft landed intact and appears to have pancaked flat into the swampy ground, likely indicating it crashed in a flat spin. The tail section has a portion of the U. S. Army serial number painted in yellow with "987" on the right side and "219" on the left side.
During 1984, American Jack Taft removed parts from the wreck including the engine cowling and one cockpit door. Later, these parts ended up in the PNG Museum.
Between 1987–2016, this Airacobra was investigated on at least five occasions by teams from the U. S. Government and coded
The first visit was on June 30, late June or early July 1987, a team from US Army CILHI with Brian Bennett departed from Terapo and visited this crash site.
The second visit was on October 13, 1988 when a team from US Army CILHI with Dr. Miller and SFC Wafer departed from Terapo and overnighted at Uralau and walked to the crash site the next day. During their search, no remains or life support evidence was found and the site was recommended to be closed, but "the pilot's status remain listed as non-recoverable until further information becomes available".
During 2002, Robert Greinert visited the crash site.
The third U. S. Government visit was during November 2012 a team from JPAC investigated the crash site.
During late March 2016 Robert Greinert again visited the crash site.
The fourth U. S. Government visit was a DPAA team during late March 2016 that investigated the crash site.
The fifth U. S. Government visit was a DPAA team during July 2016 that again
investigated the crash site and located dental remains and material evidence at the crash site.
Recovery of Remains
After the recovery of remains in July 2016 included dental remains and material evidence. Laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence was used to identify his remains. On December 20, 2016 the Department of Defense (DoD) officially announced the identification of 1st Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak. On September 15, 2017 the Department of Defense (DoD) announced his remains will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Pitonyak was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.
After the identification of Pitonyak's remains, on September 22, 2017 he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
David Ruth (grand-nephew of Pitonyak)
"I am the grand nephew of 1st. Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak. No one in his family is alive that knows or remembers what happened to him. I discovered that Francis Pitonyak does have 2 sisters that are still alive."
David C. Daniels (grand-nephew of Pitonyak)
"My name is David Daniels and Dave Ruth and myself are working together on this project as to the recovery of any remains of 1st. Lt. Frances J. Pitonyak."
Previously, Pitonyak was a P-38 Lightning pilot who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart (posthumously).
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records -
Francis J. Pitonyak
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-39Q-5-BE Airacobra 42-19987
"19987 (8th FG) lost Oct 28, 1943, New Guinea. MACR 1005"
Missing Air Crew Report 1005 (MACR 1005)
October 1943 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports
Attack & Conquer page 313
Memorandum For Commander, U. S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Ft. Shafter, Hawaii "Subject: Search and Recovery Report (S&R) 14/CIL/88, P-39Q AC # 42-19987" March 17, 1989
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) -
Francis J. Pitonyak
"His remains have been recovered and identified"
FindAGrave - 1LT Francis James Pitonyak (photos, tablets of the missing)
1LT Francis James “Frank” Pitonyak (photos, Arlington National Cemetery)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-39Q Airacobra 42-19987
DPAA Recently Accounted For 2016 - Francis J. Pitonyak
Facebook - Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency December 20, 2016
"Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak, missing from World War II, has now been accounted for.
On Oct. 28, 1943, Pitonyak was a member of the 36th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter squadron and was the pilot of a single-seat fighter aircraft. Pitonyak led a formation of four aircraft from Wards Airdome near Port Moresby, Territory of Papua on an armed patrol mission to Nadzab in the Markham River Valley. Due to rapidly deteriorating weather conditions and loss of visibility one of the four pilots aborted the mission, returned to base and immediately reported the other three pilots missing, The following day, an aerial search was conducted for the missing aircraft, with no results. The U.S. Army declared Pitonyak deceased as of Oct. 28, 1943.
The American Battle Monuments Commission memorialized Pitonyak by including his name on the Tablets of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.
In June 1987, a team of investigators from the U.S Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, accompanied by local witnesses, located the wreckage of an aircraft in the vicinity of Ulreal Village, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea. The wreckage, which was largely intact, included a serial number consistent with the aircraft piloted by Pitonyak. In October 1988, a second team visited the crash site and noted the positioning of the wreckage suggested a low-angle controlled impact or hard landing, but they were unable to recover remains or flight equipment. In July 2016, a DPAA recovery team recovered possible dental remains and supporting material evidence from a site located in the vicinity of Urulau Village, Kerema District, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea.
Laboratory analysis and circumstantial evidence were used in the identification of his remains.
Interment services are pending.
Welcome home and rest in peace, 1st Lt. Pitonyak."
Facebook - Defense POW / MIA Account Agency September 15, 2017
"The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing from World War II, are being returned to his family for burial with full military honors.
Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak, 25, of Detroit, and accounted for on Dec. 20, 2016, will be buried September 22 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C."
DPAA News Release "Funeral Announcement for Michigan Airman Accounted For From World War II" September 15, 2017
"Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Francis J. Pitonyak, 25, of Detroit, will be buried September 22 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C."
Thanks to David Ruth, David C. Daniels, Bruce Hoy and Brian Bennett for additional information
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October 26, 2019