The rescue

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The rescue

The following is the report filed by the rescue team leader for the official Inquiry Board:

 

T/Sgt Mcneer and myself were alerted at approximately 1000 hours to go to the Port Angeles area to jump into the B-17 crash. We loaded all our equipment on the C-82 and taxied out at 10:45 (approx). For some reason we came back and put all our gear on a base C-47 and took off about 11:30

We flew to the area and made one pass down the valley and then weather obscured the upper end of the valley so we flew back and forth over the lower end for about 15 or 20 minutes. McNeer and I had gotten into our jump gear and were standing by. Lt Simpson called me forward to the cockpit and said the coast guard had a helicopter standing by and that 5 survivors had already been evacuated. He said that we could jump or go in by helicopter. I decided to go by helicopter because it was safer and also we could get our equipment in better and closer to the wreck. The C-47 landed at Port Angeles and we loaded our most essential gear into the helicopter and took off. We arrived at the scene of the accident about 15:30 and unloaded our gear. A preliminary search of the airplane and the immediate area for the other 3 survivors was made but with negative results. Found the left wing torn or sheared off between the #1 and #2 engine mount. R Wing was practically intact but the 4 engines had been torn off the wings. All of the bomb bay and radio compartment was missing and the left side of the waist compartment had been torn out back to the left scanners seat. Tail section was intact but had been torn off from the waist section at about the tail wheel well.

We then started a search up the side of the mountain, but it started getting dark so we turned back and made camp. The next morning at 0730 we started back up and found wreckage and equipment scattered all over. When we got to the first big rock we climbed around it and on top found a piece of one flap and other metal parts we were unable to identify. We continued our climb and got around the next big rock. Off to the right of this rock, I found what I think was part of the horizontal stabilizer. About this time TSGT McNeer seen a foot sticking out of the snow about 30 or 40 feet to our left. We walked over and started digging in the snow and uncovered T/SGT Ball. He was still fastened in the lower part of his seat. We dug him out of the snow and checked to see if he had on dogtags but he didn't. I was fairly sure it was TSGT ball so we tagged him and continued the search. We found 2 or 3 articles of clothing so TSGT McNeer stopped to dig in the snow there. I continued climbing and seen the back of a flying suit sticking out of snow. This was about 125 feet above and to the right from TSGT Ball. I dug out around and turned the body over and found it to be SGT DeRoth. He was face down and still fastened to his seat. There was a notebook sticking out of one pocket and upon examining it I found that it had 2 or 3 pages of Q signals. Due to this and the fact that the corpse had blonde hair, I decided it was DeRoth and labeled it as such.

From the location of SGT DeRoth's body on up the face of the cliff and to the left there was considerable equipment scattered. TSGT McNeer and I separated to continue the search. I went toward the top and he went along the side. I got on top and couldn't see any wreckage so I continued along the top to where it broke off and went almost straight down. I couldn't see any wreckage or signs of broken trees so I went back down to where TSGT McNeer was. He had found what we believe was the initial point of impact. The ground was torn up and a flap and one propeller were laying about 10 feet in front of this. Pieces of wood, metal and glass were also strewn around. About 50 feet to the front and 50 feet downhill was the back half of the A-1 lifeboat.

Looking ahead against the side of a cliff, I could see one engine. I decided that capt lank could have been thrown out and up to the cliff then slid down in the snow so I started in that direction. I walked a little way and found Capt Lankiewicz's parachute. About 50 feet further on was his equipment bag. A little further on I found one of his flying boots. I was walking toward the cliff when I seen something of a blue color lying in the snow. Scraping the snow away, I found it to be Capt Lankiewicz's foot. After removing the snow from the body, I removed the wallet and found out it was capt Lank so I labeled the body.

By this time the 2 men had arrived with the remains bags. We placed the remains in the bags and started the evacuation to the helicopter landing site. Completed this phase at about 1345 so TSGT McNeer and I made another search of the aircraft. We found nothing else but we did notice that the upper part of the cockpit was intact and all of the glass was still in, but the lower part was completely demolished.

At 1400 the helicopter returned and removed the remains of Captain Lankiewicz and SGT DeRoth. At 1430 (approx) he returned and removed TSGT Ball and picked up TSGT Mcneer and CPL Willis. On his 3rd trip, PFC Gordon and myself were taken out. 

Robert T Elliot
Air Force SSGT, USAF
NCOIC Pararescue team.