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  C-47A-35-DL "Gremlin Special/Guinea Gopher" Serial Number 42-23952  
USAAF
FEASC

Former Assignments
5th AF
317th TCG
39th TCS

Click For Enlargement
U. S. Army July 1945
Pilot  Col. Peter J. Prossen, O-22803 (KIA, BR) San Antonio, TX
Co-Pilot  Major George H. Nicholson, O-298227 (KIA, BR) Medford, MA
Engineer  SSgt Hilliard Norris, 14072653 (KIA, BR) Waynesville, NC
Asst Engineer  Pfc Melvin A. Mollberg, 17035891 (KIA, BR) Baudette, MN
Radio  Pfc George R. Newcomer, 32273013 (KIA, BR) Middletown, NY
Passenger  TSgt Kenneth W. Decker, 19005776 (rescued) Kelso, Washington
Passenger  Cpl Margaret J. Hastings, A-218021 (rescued) Owego, NY
Passenger  1st Lt. John S. McColom, O-467272 (rescued) Tranton, MS
Passenger  1st Lt. Robert E. McCollom, O-468926 (KIA, BR) MS
Passenger  Maj. Herman F. Antonini, O-351875 (KIA, BR) Danville, IL
Passenger  Cpl Charles R. Miller, 36181551 (KIA, BR) Saint Joseph, MI
Passenger  Captain Louis E. Freyman, O-392996 (KIA, BR) IN
Passenger  Pfc Marian C. Gillis, A-901668 (KIA, BR) Hollywood, CA
Passenger  1st Lt. Lawrence F. Holding, O-535205 (KIA, BR) Raleigh, NC
Passenger  Major Phillip J. Dattilo, O-336086 (KIA, BR) Louisville, KY
Passenger  Captain Herbert F. Good, O-262232 (KIA, BR) Dayton, OH
Passenger  Pfc Mary M. Landau, A-207742 (KIA, BR) Brooklyn, NY
Passenger  Sgt Belle G. Naimer, A-116702 (KIA, BR) Bronx, NY
Passenger  Cpl Melvyn A. Weber, 19180552 (KIA, BR) Compton, CA
Passenger  Pfc Alethia M. Fair, A-920130 (KIA, BR) Los Angeles, CA
Passenger  Sgt Helen G. Kent, A-902290 (KIA, BR) Taft, CA
Passenger  Tec3 Marion W. McMonagle, A-311096 (KIA, BR) Philadelphia, PA
Passenger  Pfc Eleanor P. Hanna, A-311558 (injured in crash, died May 14, 1945, BR) Montoursville, PA
Passenger  SSgt Laura E. Besley, A-306040 (injured in crash, died May 15, 1945, BR) Shippenville, PA
Crashed  May 13, 1945
MACR  14697

Aircraft History
Built by Douglas at a cost of $269,276.00. Constructors Number 9814. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as C-47A-35-DL Skytrain serial number 42-23952. Ferried overseas via Hickam Field then across the Pacific to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 317th Troop Carrier Group (317th TCG), 39th Troop Carrier Squadron (39th TCS). Squadron Nose Number 13. Australian Call Sign VH-CHG. Nicknamed "Gremlin Special / Guinea Gopher". By May 1945 assigned to the Far East Air Service Command (FEASC). When lost, engines R-1830-92 serial numbers CP350692 and 350967. No armament was aboard this aircraft.

Mission History
On May 13, 1945 at 1:30pm took off from Sentai Drome near Hollandia piloted by Col. Peter Prossen on a sight seeing trip with five crew and nineteen passengers (including eight women) to fly over the Hidden Valley / Shangri-La (Balim) between Hollandia and Merauke. In Missing Air Crew Report 14697 (MACR 14697), the type of mission was listed as navigational training. The weather was visibility unlimited with 3,000' scattered clouds.

Unable to find the location, this C-47 circled the area then descended for a closer look and was caught in a downdraft and crashed at roughly Lat 4.08 Long 138.47. In the crash, nineteen were killed on impact. When this aircraft failed to return, it was listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

Fates of the Survivors
Only five of the passengers in the rear of the C-47 survived the crash. Two were severely injured: Pfc Eleanor P. Hanna and SSgt Laura E. Besley and on May 14, 1945, both died of their wounds.

After the crash, the three survivors: TSgt Kenneth W. Decker, Cpl Margaret J. Hastings and 1st Lt. John S. McColom set off on foot towards the Hidden Valley but collapsed from exhaustion.

Search
When this C-47 was reported as missing, twenty-four aircraft from Hollandia searched for the missing plane including all available FEASC aircraft plus six aircraft from 4th ASAC also participated in the search.

Spotted from the air, a rescue mission was quickly organized to aid the survivors. On May 17, 1945 a C-47 air dropped supplies with parachutes to the survivors that included food and a radio. McColom quickly setup the radio and was able to relay the story of the crash and that only three were alive.

Two paratroopers from the U. S. Army 1st Filipino Regiment (1st Recon) Sergeant Benjamin “Doc” Bulatao and Corporal Camilo “Rammy” Ramirez were selected to jumped into the forest area at the crash site to aid the survivors. Meanwhile, eight other paratroopers would land in the valley miles away to establish a camp and clear a landing strip.

Plans were made to rescue the survivors from the valley by dropping paratroopers in to prepare a landing strip for a glider that took several weeks to prepare. Another group went to the crash site and buried the dead marking the graves with 19 crosses and one star of David.

On June 28, 1945 C-47 "Leaking Louise" took off towing CG-4A "Fanless Faggot" 43-41??? arrived over the survivors and released the glider that landed at a prepared clearing in the valley. Thirty minutes after landing, this glider was man handled into position with the help of local people and the tow cable attached to two posts for pickup. The three survivors: plus two paratrooper medics boarded the glider. Above, a B-25 with Colonel Ray T. Elsmore aboard orbited to observe the rescue.

Once ready, the same C-47 swooped in low and "snatched" the tow cable line pulling the glider airborne. During take off, a parachute placed on the ground as a marker became stuck on the bottom. As the glider became airborne, it barely cleared trees but limbs caused tears in the lower fabric surfaces and the parachute flapped violently against the bottom causing drag and more damage.

Aboard, 1st Lt. John S. McColom crawled to the rear of the glider and was able to retrieve the parachute. Climbing out of the valley, the C-47's engines nearly overheated before clearing the mountains and flew back to Hollandia. In total, it took 47 days to rescue the three survivors who were photographed with the glider.

Recovery of Remains
After the crash, a group of paratroopers went to the crash site and buried the remains of the crew and passengers that were killed in the crash and two that died the next day. Their graves were marked with twenty white crosses plus a Star of David. Postwar, during 1958 a team from American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) returned to recover the remains and transported them to the United States.

Memorials
On June 29, 1959 the nineteen killed in the crash and the two that died the next day were buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 70 site 16187-89.

Good is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 11 grave 84-LH.

Hanna is buried at Twin Hills Memorial Park in Muncy, PA.

Besley was buried on May 13, 1959 at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (Punchbowl) at section U, site 10.

Decker passed away on January 1, 2000 at age 88. He is buried at Cowlitz View Memorial Gardens in Keso, WA.

Relatives
Darlene Ryan adds:
"I found Antonini listed as MIA list on May 13, 1945. I later found a record from the veterans' cemeteries that said he died on May 13, 1945, and was buried in 1959. His name was Maj. Herman F. Antonini, US Army Air Force, service number O-351875."

References
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Hilliard Norris
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Melvin A. Mollberg
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - George R. Newcomer

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Kenneth W. Decker

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Margaret J. Hastings
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Charles R. Miller
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Marian C. Gillis
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Lawrence F. Holding
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Mary M. Landau
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Bella G. Naimer
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Melvyn A. Weber
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Alethia M. Fair
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Helen G. Kent
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Eleanor P. Hanna
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Laura E. Besley
Individual Aircraft Record Card (IARC) - C-47A Skytrain 42-23952
USAF Serial Number Search Results - C-47A-35-DL Skytrain 42-23952
"23952 (MSN 9814) delivered Jul 5, 1943. 5th AF Brisbane, *The Gremlin Special*) crashed into mountain in Dutch New Guinea May 13, 1945. MACR 14697. 19 killed in crash, five survived but 2 died of their wounds before being rescued. Surviving 3 were finally flown out by Waco glider snatch in late June 1945."
Missing Air Crew Report 14697 (MACR 14697) created retroactively on July 12, 1945
(Page 2) 2. Type of mission: Navigational training, 7 nickname of aircraft: "Merle" [sic].
FindAGrave - COL Peter J Prossen (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - MAJ George H Nicholson (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - SSGT Hilliard Norris (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Melvin A Mollberg (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - PFC George Robert Newcomer (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - 1LT Robert E McCollom (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - MAJ Herman F Antonini (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - CPL Charles R Miller (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Capt Louis E Freyman (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Marian C Gillis (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - 1LT Lawrence F Holding (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - MAJ Phillip J Dattilo (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Herbert F Good (grave photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Mary M Landau (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - SGT Belle G Naimer (news, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - CPL Melvyn A Weber (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Alethia M Fair (group burial photo)
FindAGrave - SGT Helen Green Kent (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Marion W McMonagle (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - PFC Eleanor Pauline Hanna (photo, group burial photo)
FindAGrave - Laura E. Besley (photo, grave photo) date of death listed as May 13, 1945 [sic, May 15, 1945]
FindAGrave - Kenneth W. Decker (grave photo)
New York Times “Airfield Is Built to Rescue a Wac and 2 Men in New Guinea” June 9, 1945
National World War II Glider Pilots Association " A WAC in Shangri-La" by Cpl Margaret Hastings
Readers Digest “A WAC in Shangri-La” by Cpl Margaret Hastings with Inez Robb, November 1945
The Forgotten Fifth (2007) by Michael Claringbould profiles this C-47 loss and the story of the rescue
National Public Radio (NPR) A WWII Survival Epic Unfolds Deep In 'Shangri-La' by Lynn Neary April 26, 2011 interview with Mitchell Zuckoff on All Things Considered
Lost in Shangri-La (2012) by Mitchell Zuckoff profiles this C-47 loss and the story of the rescue
Mitchell Zuckoff Lost In Shangri-La  website about the book by Mitchell Zuckoff

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Last Updated
May 23, 2020

 

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May 13, 1945

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