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  B-24D-10-CO Liberator Serial Number 41-23908 Number 85
11th AF
28th BG
21st BS

Click For Enlargement
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Ted Spencer 1979

Click For Enlargement
via Ted Spencer 2002

Click For Enlargement
via Hill Aerospace
Pilot  Captain Ernest "Pappy" Pruett
Bombardier   T/Sgt Holiel Ascol

Force Landed  January 18, 1943
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built at the Consolidated at San Diego completed on September 3, 1942. First flight on September 7, 1942. Delivered to the U. S. Army on September 9, 1942 and delivered the following day. Flown to the Consolidated factory in Fort Worth, Texas arriving on September 22, 1942 for modification, the 17 of 21 Liberators in a batch modified specifically for service in Alaska. Modifications were completed on November 17, 1942 and the aircraft underwent a check out flight the same day and delivered back to the US Army Air Force the next day.

Wartime History
On November 21, 1942 assigned to Great Falls Army Air Field, Montana. On December 4, 1942 flown to Elmendorf Airfield. Assigned to the 11th Air Force, 28th Bombardment Group, 21st Bombardment Squadron. No known nose art or nickname. Soon afterwards, flown to Otter Point Airfield (Umnak) then relocated to Adak Airfield flying anti-shipping patrols to assist the U.S. Navy in searching the area.

Mission History
On January 18, 1943 one of five B-24s that took off from Adak Airfield piloted by Captain Ernest "Pappy" Pruett on a mission to locate and bomb three Japanese supply ships reportedly bound for Kiska Island. The formation flew 500 miles to the Kiska area through deteriorating weather conditions. When the formation arrived over the target area, they were forced to abort the mission due to bad weather and return to base.

Back over Adak Airfield visibility was so poor that they could only circle overhead awaiting an eventual break in the weather. When one of the other B-24 pilots in the group saw a brief opening over the runway and hastily tried to land he crashed into several P-38 aircraft parked near the runway. One other B-24 did manage to land safely, but the four remaining planes were forced to disperse and look for someplace to put down. Two of these B-24s disappeared presumably at sea and were never heard from again. The third, the flight commander's aircraft, had enough fuel to fly to Cold Bay Airfield and landed safely.

As Captain Pruett's B-24 began to run low on fuel, he radioed the Adak tower that he planned to put down onto Great Sitkin Island. He descended toward the ocean and made a low pass over his proposed landing site to ascertain conditions.

According to Lt. Francis Xaver, the Navigator on Capt. Pruett's B-24 that day:
"As we flew over the 50 foot cliff on the shoreline, a strong wind blowing up the face of the cliff was so turbulent that it knocked out our radio, and we lost all contact with Adak. Unknown to us, Adak tried to contact us at about this time to inform us that a base was open somewhere up the chain of islands. Of course, we never received the message as our radio was out of order."

Capt. Pruett eased the B-24 onto the tundra at about 130mph, with the landing gear up to prevent flipping the aircraft. The B-24 slid about 1,000 feet over the mud and wet grass before it finally came to rest, passing between several large boulders at the foot of the volcano on Great Sitkin Island.

Fates of the Crew
During the landing, T/Sgt. Holiel Ascol suffered a broken pelvis.

Later that same day, USS Hurlbert rescued the crew and transported them back to Adak. Afterwards, Ernest Pruett went on to fly 44 combat missions and never lost another aircraft.

This B-24 remained 'in situ' on Great Sitkin Island.

During the summer of 1994 it was located by a scouting party from the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah, searching all known Alaskan B-24 crash sites for a recoverable aircraft for display at Hill Aerospace Museum. An expedition to salvage the bomber was planned for the summer of 1995.

Retired in Carlsbad, California, former pilot Ernest Pruett was contacted by members of the Heritage Foundation and asked if he would like to return to the island and assist the recovery team in plucking "his" B-24 from obscurity. He agreed and joined the recovery effort in Alaska.

During the summer of 1995, members of the Heritage Foundation, the 419th Combat Logistics Support Squadron, and 67th Aerial Port based at Hill AFB plus former pilot Ernest Pruett traveled to the bomber and labored for several weeks to completely disassemble the plane and maneuver it to the shore and loaded the pieces onto a ship. Afterwards, the pieces were transported to California for restoration.

The fuselage was restored in California and then shipped to Hill Aerospace Museum arriving May 17, 2002. The wings are to be completed later and final assembly will follow soon thereafter. This B-24 aircraft is presented by the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah and Hill Aerospace Museum as a tribute to all those who served their country in World War II and in the "Forgotten War" of the Alaska Campaign.

Ted Spencer adds:
"I have its pilots seat that I bought from a militaria shop in Connecticut. Apparently it was recovered from the wreck by a US Navy helicopter pilot out of Adak NAS in the late 1960's. I also met the pilot Ernie Pruett at an 11th Air Force reunion in Arizona."

The Forgotten War mistakenly identified this wreck as B-24D "Li'l Deicer" 41-11850
Thanks to Hill Aerospace Museum for additional information

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Last Updated
February 14, 2020


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