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|Pilot Captain Leonidas S. Mathers (KIA, BR) Matherville, MS
Crashed August 23, 1943
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank. Constructors Number 1036. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-38H-1-LO Lightning serial number 42-66525. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.
On August 23, 1943 took off from 3-Mile Drome (Kila Kila) near Port Moresby piloted by Captain Leonidas Mathers on a local flight to test an engine. After take off, the P-38 cart wheeled and crashed into Joyce Bay near Scone Island. Mather's body washed ashore the next day. When lost, this P-38 was virtually a brand new aircraft.
Norbert "Norb" Ruff recalls in Ruff Stuff page 126:
"Now the day before Leon went in we were both together on a combat mission and both he and I had written up our airplanes for problems after we completed the mission. Mine were minor. Leon said his engine would cut out at altitude. The next day were were off of flying. Leon played poker all afternoon. About 4:00pm phone rang - both planes were ready for testing. We drove down to the strip together in a jeep. I check out my plane, all okay, landed and was standing on the wing. I could see Mathers approaching on down wind leg over the bay on a single engine. He was low, the other prop just idling. There is an island in the bay [Local Island in Joyce Bay] He flew low in behind the island and never came out. I still don't know if he feathered the wrong prop or if both engines just quit. He did set it down in the water, drowned. I told [Major Edward] Cragg what I had seen. He asked me to go out with the crash boat the next morning with native skin divers. At this time we thought he was still in the plane. We could bring up small pieces of aluminum, but the major portion was in too deep water to reach. He floated in the next day with his chute still on. Anyway, the Squadron report could report dead rather than 'missing' in action, if you don't have a body, especially if he married."
Afterwards, fellow pilots from the 80th Fighter Squadron used a crash boat to search for his crashed plane with locals to skin dive down to locate the crashed aircraft. They found small pieces of wreckage but the rest of the aircraft was deemed to be too deep underwater or elsewhere.
Recovery of Remains
The next day, Mather's body with the parachute still on washed ashore and was recovered.
After the crash, most of the wreckage was located and raised by the U. S Army. The ultimate fate of this wreckage is unknown, likely used to repair other aircraft or was scrapped or otherwise disappeared.
During the early 2000, scattered wreckage remained on the sandy bottom off Scone Island in 10'-12' of water. Wreckage include propeller, oil cooler, wing pylon.
Mathers was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is buried at Geneva-Horne Cemetery in Matherville, MS.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-38H-1-LO Lightning 42-66525
"66525 (8th FG, 80th FS) crashed due to engine failure 2 mi offshore Kila Aerodrome, New Guinea Aug 23, 1943. Pilot killed."
August 1943 USAAF Overseas Accident Reports - P-38H 42-66525 Leonidas S. Mathers
Aviation Safety Network - P-38G Lightning 42-66525
Ruff Stuff (2006) by Norbert "Norb" Ruff page 126
"Leon was married about the class of 41-I or H. He came to the 80th FS with the Panama group with Cragg, Kirby, Lundy, etc. He was an excellent poker player. Usually, Leon Mathers would send home the collective winnings like $3-5,000/month."
FindAGrave - Leonidas S Mathers (photo, Geneva-Horne Cemetery)
Thanks to Keith Hopper for additional information
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