"The Crash at 3000 Feet"
By Randolph J. Hils
IN MEMORIUM, GUY J. HUNTER WHO PASSED ON MARCH11, 2004
I first heard the story of the last flight of the C-47, "ROAD HOG," # 42-100732, from Gordy Folts at the 2001 440th Troop Carrier Group Association reunion in Milwaukee. Gordy led me to Guy Hunter who was the Crew Chief of the "ROAD HOG"
The demand for troop carrier aircraft remained high through out the war. Aircraft and crews were pushed to the limits and sometimes beyond. The "ROAD HOG" was apparently in the beyond category. Rushed operations, mechanical problems and an oversight brought serious consequences. Crew Chief, Guy J. Hunter of the 96th Squadron;
"During the month of December, 1944 I was assigned as aerial engineer (AKA, crew chief) to the above aircraft. An inspection of this aircraft revealed it was obviously not airworthy. There was evidence of fuel leaks between both engine nacelles and in the center wing section and oil leaks along the engine nacelles. The red coloring in the fuel streaked the bottom of the plane at every seam. At no time would anyone honor this information in spite of my efforts to ground the plane.
I was informed the plane must participate in a mission to Oxford, England.
The crew assigned to this mission was:
Pilot: John Landenberger
Co-pilot: Ernest Wellington
Navigator: Clarence McKinney
Aerial Engineer: Guy Hunter
Radio Operator: Gordon Folts
After arriving in Oxford, I did not learn where the rest of the crew was billeted. During my five years of service, I never spent a colder nor more miserable nights than those spent on the aircraft.
The mission was scrubbed. On the morning of return while I was performing pre-flight the rest of the crew came aboard. The pilot brought on board with him the landing gear safety pins. It was not till the plane taxied into position for take off that the pilot informed me the wind was strong enough to indicate movement on the air speed indicator. I was sent to secure the pitot cover. Upon opening the door, the pilot started the take off run. This caused the door to slam shut, knocking me to the floor. We were airborne before I regained my footing. When I arrived in the cockpit, the pilot informed me the Group CO was standing in the field waving to him to take off. The pilot suggested we try to burn the cover from the pitot. When I informed him of the condition of the aircraft, he agreed it was not safe to do so.
On the return flight to Orleans, France, the weather was such that we were flying on instruments. By this time it was well after dusk. The pilot told me the base was sending up flares when we were several miles away on our approach. Shortly thereafter we flew out of the overcast. The pilot started descending. I made an inspection of the instruments and observed them to be functioning properly, including the altimeter. I then ceded my position to the navigator. It seems it was almost immediately thereafter we hit the ground. By the time we slid to a stop the aircraft was ablaze. I was facing aft and observed all cabin doors were jarred open. I do not remember how many passengers we had on board but one of them was tumbling in the air toward the cockpit. There was an open conduit of wires mounted on the starboard wall where I observed a ball of fire flowing toward the tail section. Upon reaching the door I turned to see if the pilot and co-pilot had followed. The cockpit could not be seen for the flames. The navigator, radio operator, passengers and myself made it into the cabin. I then discovered the door was wedged shut. One of the other men held the door handle in the open position while I ran hitting it with my shoulder. At this point I found myself about 4 feet off the ground when the door popped open. I then observed the pilot and co-pilot running around the left wing tip.
It so happened we flew into a frozen plowed field near a highway. Shortly thereafter we observed the headlights of a vehicle approaching. It turned out to be an ambulance from our base returning from a field hospital. We rode to base in the ambulance where we had been reported by another aircraft as observing no survivors."
THE END OF THE "ROADHOG" Photo courtesy of Guy Hunter.
The pitot tube is a sensing device that reads barometric pressure for the aircraft altimeter. It is normally covered while the aircraft is on standby to prevent contamination of the device. "The pitot tube had a built in heating element for de-icing purposes. This was what the pilot had in mind in burning the fabric cover sleeve from the pitot. The pitot was located directly forward and centered in front of the center wing section. My concern was that of a possible fire hazard. When I checked the instruments and determined them to be operating properly it did not dawn on me, the altimeter was lagging and not reflecting the actual rate of descent. Thus, it was not registering the barometric pressure properly, which I later realized."
"THE ENGINEERING OFFICER, LEMASTER, IN THE CENTER, AND ON THE RIGHT IS THE SUPPLY OFFICER, WHOSE NAME I DO NOT NOW REMEMBER, I AM ON THE LEFT.WE ARE STANDING JUST ABOUT WHERE I WAS AT THE MOMENT OF THE IMPACT WITH THE GROUND." Courtesy of Guy Hunter
At the time the plane slammed into the ground the altimeter was reading about 3000 feet altitude. Most remarkable is to consider that luck was with those aboard, the plane was in the right attitude when it hit the ground for a high-speed belly landing with no serious injuries or loss of life.