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  TBF-1 Avenger Bureau Number 05923  
USN
CAG-21
VC-26

Pilot  Ensign Joe David Mitchell USNR (rescued)
Gunner  AOM1c Chauncey Junior Estep, USN (rescued) Woodville, WV
Radio  ARM3c Dale Vere Dahl (rescued)

Ditched  July 18, 1943


Aircraft History
Built by Grumman. Delivered to the U. S. Navy (USN). Assigned to USS Sangamon (CVE-26) to squadron VC-26. No Known nickname or nose art. During 1943, this Avenger was temporary land based at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

Mission History
On July 18, 1943 took off from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on mission against shipping in Tonolei Harbor off southern Bougainville. After dive bombing, one of the landing gear legs deployed, and this Avenger was attacked by an A6M Zero that made five passes an shot out the oil, hydraulics and fuel lines. Mitchell ditched into the open sea at roughly 9:50am and the crew deployed their life raft.

Fates of the Crew
Their raft began to drift towards the Treasury Islands. The next day, they observed aircraft overhead and saw sharks following their raft. Three days later, they made landfall Stirling Island at 8:00am on July 21.

Friendly natives were contacted the next day and on July 23 they were taken to Mono Island and joined the three crew member of TBF Avenger 47448. Two days later they were joined by P-38G Lightning 43-2206 pilot Benjamin H. King who ditched on July 17, 1943 reached the island on July 25th.

Hidden on the island by the native people, the group of seven aviators ate only one chicken and no other meat and rotated reading the Bible at night to keep up their spirits, and on several occasions avoided nearby Japanese patrols.

After nearly three months, a portion of the group (Peck, Teft, Mitchell and King) planned to sail to the south and bring help to the others left on Mono. Using one of their life rafts and departed on September 13 during the moonlight night, and spent four days in the raft, and observed Japanese and Allied planes overhead.

On September 17, their raft was spotted by a patrol plane and dropped rations, but they were not able to retrieve them, and the plane departed. A PT-Boat was deployed to search for them, but was unsuccessful. At 6:00, a PBY Catalina escorted by fighters over flew their raft but departed.

Rescue of Raft
At 10:00pm, a PBY Catalina piloted by Lt(jg) Fred H. Gage, USNR from VP-54 was on a routine night patrol of the Vella Lavella-Shortland-Fauro area. When the men in the raft heard it, they lit a flare in a can of kerosene to signal the flying boat. The Catalina circled for two and a half hours before attempting to land at 2:30am on September 18 1943 and pulled alongside the raft, then roughly six miles northwest of Vella Lavella. The men were too weak after 96 hours at sea and had to be lifted aboard, and then their raft was destroyed. Afterwards, they were flown to Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and had to be carried off the Catalina. Afterwards, the men were returned to the United States to recuperate.

Rescue of Estep and Dahl
Remaining on Mono, Estep, Dahl and Scott from TBF Avenger 05923 remained behind. Later, on October 18, an Allied reconnaissance party landed on the island. The next day they were told about the three airmen by the natives. Demanding that a white man show himself, so they were sure they were not Japanese, the airmen revealed themselves. The aviators and the recon party were extracted from Mono aboard another PT Boat during the night of October 21 and disembarked at the PT Boat base at Lumbaria off Rendova. Scott had been behind enemy lines for 148 days.

Memorials
Mitchell passed away on December 25, 2005. He is buried at Davidson Cemetery in Davidson, OK.
Dahl passed away during 1989. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Watertown, SD.
Estep remained in the U. S. Navy during the Korean War. He passed away on July 13, 2002 and is buried at Halcyon Hills Memorial Park in Sherrard, WV at the Garden of Atonement Section 9 Lot 98-D 1,2,3,4 Estep lots.

Relatives
David Mitchell Estep (son of Chauncey Junior Estep)
"My father was Chauncey Junior Estep AOM1/c, USN. I was named David Mitchell Estep to honor Joe David Mitchell. My father rarely spoke of his WWII naval service to anyone. I and my sister only knew that he served in the navy and that he had been wounded. A few years before his death he began to write of his experiences on Mono Island and to renew wartime friendship with the other men who were saved from death by the Mono Islanders. Shortly after his death I received a box with his files and papers. I set them aside unopened for many years. Early last year I began to peruse the files out of curiosity. I found a wealth of information on his Mono Island ordeal."

References
USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List July 1943 - TBM Avenger 05923
"Stranded! There were 7 Japs and the sea to fight" by Seth Bailey
"Airmen Reports Miracle Rescue"
Medical Report on Survivors Marooned on a South Pacific Island
Lonely Vigil page 282- 284
FindAGrave - Joe David Mitchell (grave photo)
FindAGrave - Dale Vere Dahl (grave)
FindAGrave - Chauncey Junior Estep (photo)
Thanks to David Mitchell Estep for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

Tech Info
Avenger

MapMap July 18, 1943

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