Salternik March 12, 1944
|Pilot 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack, Jr., O-736172 (survived) Hatboro,
Landed February 14, 1944
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York during 1943. Delivered to the U. S. Army. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron. No known nickname or nose art. The tail was painted with a white tail section with a black checker board pattern of the 49th Fighter Group.
On February 14, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Flack was flying as "Yellow Flight" leader with wingman Lt. Jim Reynolds. Over the target,
Flack broke formation and went after a Ki-61 Tony then engaged in a turning
dogfight with the fighter,
resulting in a high G turn, and a head on attack against his opponent. Flack's
fire hit the fighter, killing the pilot and the Tony crashed into
the water in a shallow dive, his second confirmed victory. Flack's wingman
was Lt Jim
Reynolds, confirmed his kill. But, machine gun fire from the Tony
had damaged his cooling system, causing his oil pressure to rise. Separated after the dog fight, Flack proceeded back towards base alone. Due to an overcast, he was unable to locate his wingman and was heard over the radio calling for Reynolds by other pilots in the formation and back at base.
force landed in a kunai field near the Sogram
River northeast of Siniap in the Ramu Valley near Tauta, roughly sixty miles north of Gusap. During the landing, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken arm. When he awoke he exited the cockpit before the plane caught fire and exploded. At the time of his landing, this area was behind enemy lines.
Immediately after Flack was reported missing, three L-5 Sentinels from "A" Flight of the 25th Liaison Squadron took off from Gusap Airfield on a mission to locate and rescue Flack. Roughly 60 miles north, L-5 Sentinel 42-98066 piloted by MSgt Eugene 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.
The next morning, L-5's from Gusap Airfield returned to dropped supplies
and equipment to Salternik and told him to stay at the crash site. Meanwhile, Lt Hector Henstridge of the Australian Army
2/7th Commando Company volunteered
to parachute down to aid him, although he had never parachuted before and only flown on an airplane once before. On February 16, Henstridge successfully parachuted from another L-5 and reached Salitrnik. The next day they located Flack and the three men spent the next two days clearing a landing ground they dubbed "Flack Field" for another L-5 to land and rescue them.
On February 21,
1944 two more L-5's took off from Gusap Airfield in an attempt to land at the landing ground. L-5 "Termite" 42-98085 piloted by James D. Nichols landed successfully but his landing gear went "spread eagle" damaging the airframe beyond repair and leaving a third person stranded at the site. Next, L-5 piloted Sgt Thomas Stallone successfully
landed at the clearing, but was unable to take off carrying any
additional passengers and departed alone. After the loss of so many 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.
In 1946, a RAAF Searcher Team visited
the wreckage on May 18, 1946, and noted the serial
number, and that traces of the green and white
on the tail was still present (markings of 49th FG). The P-40
was burned around the cockpit and engine, but had otherwise made
a good crash landing. Also, they discovered L-5 42-98066. This wreck remained in situ until 2004. During 2004, this P-40 was rediscovered by John
In early June 2004, this P-40 was recovered by Robert
Greinert / HARS and Murry
Griffith / Precision Aerospace. The
engine and one wing was removed from the crash site, and flown to
Madang where it was placed into storage then exported to Australia to Precision Aerospace at Wangaretta Airport. After the salvage, a critical
portion of the tail and rudder were transported to Australia by Murry
Initially, this aircraft was sold to Gus Larard. During 2005, the restoration began with a new built wing set and fuselage. Only parts of the original tail section were used in the restoration. After the passing of Murry Griffith, the restoration was completed by the renamed company, Precision Airmotive. During 2011, sold by Platinum Fighter Sales to Doug Hamilton.
On October 14, 2015 registered in Australia as VH-PFO with the owner listed as Precision Airmotive Pty Ltd. After ten years of restoration, this P-40 made a first flight on March 6, 2016. Painted in the markings of Flack's aircraft, P-40N 42-104986. Starting in 2016, Classic Air / Classic Air Adventure Flights began offering flights in this aircraft from Wangaretta Airport.
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-40 Kittyhawk 42-104986
Protect and Avenge page 216 describes
Flack's second kill. 234-235 Flack incident
Air Force Magazine "Valor: Jungle Rescue" John L. Frisbee Vol. 75, No. 5 May 1992
Nelson Flack Incident by John Douglas
49th Fighter Wing "Capt. Nelson Flack: The rediscovery of a Black Sheep" [PDF]
"Skeletons in the Grass - An Epic WWII Rescue" (Ghost
Wings Magazine Issue 12 by John Douglas and Justin Taylan)
also tells the story of this incident.
Maj Nelson D Flack, Jr
Australian civil aircraft register - P-40N 42-104986 registration VH-PFO
WIN News Albury - A 1940s war plane took off from Wangaratta airport this morning after more than 10 years of restoration March 3, 2016 (0:10)
WIN News Albury - Warplane March 6, 2016 includes footage of this P-40 taxing and interview with owner Doug Hamilton and Precision Aerospace Mark Randell (1:17)
Facebook Classic Air (Classic Air Adventure Flights)
Thanks to Murry Griffith, Keith Hopper and John Douglas for additional information
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May 22, 2017