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Mission 877246 Reads  Printer-friendly page

KoreaOn my 87th mission, I flew a reconnaissance mission deep into North Korea. My primary target was an area of troop emplacements just north of the front lines and consisted of a requirement to photograph the area with vertical camera coverage in what is known as "mosaic photography".
At any rate, my target area was covered with clouds precluding any aerial photography of that area. Having just barely become airborne and with nearly a full load of fuel, I proceeded to my secondary target area which was the airfield situated adjacent to the Chosen Reservoir. This airfield had been used by our forces when they retreated from the Chosen Reservoir area when the Chinese entered the War. We had subsequently put the field out of commission with bomb strikes, but would do intermittent reconnaissance to ensure that it was not being used or repaired for use. I had made the run a couple of times before so it was a no brainer. I headed north for the Hungnam area, a good navigational reference check point, en route to the reservoir. As I approached Hungnam, I noted a widespread layer of clouds north of Hamhung, directly between me and the reservoir. I decided to descend from my en route altitude of I suppose thirty thousand feet, to below contrail level so as to be underneath the clouds for a run into the target. In my decent over the marshaling yards north of Hamhung, I was just about at the base of the clouds and slipping underneath the cloud layer when I was hit by what I assumed to be AAA. However, as the saying goes, you never see the one that hits you. It could just as easily have been a MiG. If it was anti-aircraft fire, the round did not hit the aircraft. It was probably a proximity-fused munition that exploded on the right side of the aircraft and sprayed shrapnel through the canopy and fuselage. I did not notice any damage to the wing though there could have been--all I knew was that I had been hit and was concentrating on the situation at hand. I felt like I had been hit on the helmet and head with a sledgehammer. A red fire warning light illuminated in the cockpit. I looked behind me and was trailing smoke. I immediately turned the airplane to a southerly direction with the intent of bailing out as close to the water as possible. I was aware of Navy ships operating in the vicinity of Wonson Harbor, so headed in that general direction. I turned on my emergency broadcast radio signal hoping that it would be picked up by Navy Air Rescue. I was not looking to ditch in the water. I was equipped with a Mae west, a survival vest with flares, signal mirror, a sidearm .45 with about a dozen rounds of ammunition, rations, and other paraphernalia for ground survival, but no dinghy for water ditching and water survival. This was mid winter, January, and cold. The airplane was smoking and had lost a good deal of its power and was losing altitude rapidly. Thinking that the engine might blow, I shut the throttle to cut fuel to the engine, hoping that the fire would go out. With bleeding head wounds, a fire warning light, and trailing smoke, I began my bailout procedures. The RF-80, "Shooting Star" which I was flying was not equipped with jettison seat or canopy. I unfastened my seat belt and shoulder harness and then tried to remove the canopy and evacuate the airplane. The canopy wouldn't jettison. To remove the canopy required turning loose of the flight controls. I struggled to remove the canopy for what seemed like minutes. I stood up in the seat in attempt to force the canopy off. In the meantime the airplane is continuing down in a rapid spiral toward the ground. My only alternative was to try to regain control of the airplane and pick the most suitable spot available in an instant to crash land. That I did. I returned to the seat and without seat belt or shoulder harness fastened, regained sufficient control of the powerless aircraft. My best guess is that I was directly North of the Wonsan peninsula and south of Hungnam, how near to either one, I do not know. An RF-80 with a dead engine has a glide ratio of a dropped anvil and is about as buoyant in the water. With the critical situation at hand, I was not paying very close attention to my specific geographic location during the last periods of flight. I could have been in Timbuktu for all I was aware of at the time. I sighted rice paddies covered by two feet of snow and decided to come down. The jet was traveling at 170 miles an hour. I came in on the tail and threw myself forward, bracing myself as much as possible against the instrument panel. Not being fastened to my seat, I was pummeled about in the cockpit during the violent impact; the bumping and bouncing of the crash rendered me unconscious. That heavy carpet of snow doubtless saved me from death in the crash.
Note: by Norman E. Duquette, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF


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