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  L-5 Sentinel Serial Number 42-98066  
5th AF
71st TRG
25th Liaison Squadron

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Eugene Salternik 1944

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John Douglas 2004

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Justin Taylan 2004
Pilot  MSgt Eugene A. Salternik, 20919799 (survived)
Crashed  February 14, 1944
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Stinson. Delivered to the U. S. Army as L-5 Sentinel serial number 42-98066. Shipped overseas to New Guinea.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group, 25th Liaison Squadron. No known nickname, painted with the squadron's motif, the silhouette of a kangaroo with the words "Guinea Short Lines". This aircraft performed liaison missions over New Guinea.

Mission History
On February 14, 1944 after the force landing of P-40N Warhawk 42-104986 piloted by 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack, Jr. in kunai grass near the Sogram River northeast of Siniap in the Ramu Valley. After the force landing was reported, this aircraft was one of three L-5s from "A" Flight of the 25th Liaison Squadron took off from Gusap Airfield on a mission to locate and rescue Flack.

Roughly sixty miles to the north, Salternik was the first to spot the burning wreckage of the P-40. He observed a grass field suitable for landing about a mile from the crash site. In fact, the field was covered with 6'-8' tall kunai grass. Unable to abort his landing, the tall grass caused his aircraft to flip over, breaking the propeller. Salternik was unhurt in the crash landing. He searched for Flack until nightfall, but was unable locate him and remained with his crashed aircraft overnight.

Eugene Salternik recalled:
"I was unhurt and I dutifully removed the battery, so that it would not drain and loose its charge. I was sad to have to abandon the plane, I remember, aside from the broken propeller, I could have easily repaired it and flown it again. Later they told me one of our planes strafed my L-5, but I guess that wasn't the case.  I was sure surprised to see the photos John Douglas took of my L-5, its still there!"

The next morning, L-5's from Gusap Airfield returned to dropped supplies and equipment to Salternik and told him to stay at the crash site. Meanwhile, Lt Hector Henstridge of the Australian Army 2/7th Commando Company volunteered to parachute down to aid him, although he had never parachuted before and only flown on an airplane once before. On February 16, Henstridge successfully parachuted from another L-5 and reached Salternik. The next day they located Flack and the three men spent the next two days clearing a landing ground they dubbed "Flack Field" for another L-5 to land and rescue them.

On February 21, 1944 two additional aircraft landed, the first L-5 "Termite" 42-98085 piloted by SSgt James D. Nichols landed but was damaged beyond repair. Next, L-5 piloted by TSgt Thomas Stallone successfully landed in the clearing, but was unable to take off carrying any additional passengers.  He took off solo and departed unable to help those on the ground. After the loss of so many rescue aircraft, the 71st Tactical Reconnaissance Group decided no more planes could be risked in the "Flack Incident".

On the ground, the group of four lead by Henstridge began walking 35 miles in dense jungle to rendezvous with an Australian patrol.  After departing, other L-5's were unable to locate the group and all were declared Missing In Action (MIA) and the search was abandoned. On March 3, 1944 after ten days in the jungle, the group ran out of food, forcing them to scrounge nuts and fish from the jungle and streams. All contracted malaria and lost 20-35 pounds each during the trek.

On March 10, 1944 they encountered an Australian Army patrol, who were pursuing Japanese troops who were also searching for them. Taken to a shelter to recover, on March 12, 1944 they were evacuated from Faita Airfield aboard a RAAF Walrus back to Gusap Airfield.

Afterwards, the Henstridge was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross, and the two L-5 pilots, Salternik and Nichols were awarded the Silver Star for their parts in saving P-40 pilot Nelson Flack. Flack got a Purple Heart for his injuries, and an Air Medal for the confirmed kill over a Tony that mission.

On May 18, 1946, a RAAF Searcher Team visited the wreckage noting the fabric was burned away by grass fires and the propeller broken.  In 2004, John Douglas rediscovered this aircraft.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - L-5 Sentinel 42-98066
"98066 (25 LS, 71 TRG) crashed near Siniap, New Guinea during rescue mission and w/o Feb 16, 1944."
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - L-5 Stinson Sentinel 42-98066 - incorrectly notes the nickname as "Termite", that nickname was instead assigned to L-5 "Termite" 42-98085.
Protect and Avenge pages 234-235
Air Force Magazine "Valor: Jungle Rescue" John L. Frisbee Vol. 75, No. 5 May 1992
The Nelson Flack Incident by John Douglas
49th Fighter Wing "Capt. Nelson Flack: The rediscovery of a Black Sheep" [PDF]
Ghost Wings Magazine "Skeletons in the Grass - An Epic WWII Rescue" Issue 12 by John Douglas and Justin Taylan
Thanks to Eugene Salternik and John Douglas for additional information

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Last Updated
June 3, 2020


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