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  P-40N-5-CU Warhawk Serial Number 42-104986  
5th AF
49th FG
8th FS

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Salternik March 12, 1944

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John Douglas 2004

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Daniel Leahy 2004
Pilot  1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack, Jr., O-736172 (survived) Hatboro, PA
Force Landed  February 14, 1944
MACR  none

Aircraft History
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York during 1943. Constructors Number 28748. Delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-40N Warhawk 42-104986. Disassembled and shipped overseas and reassembled.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 49th Fighter Group (49th FG), 8th Fighter Squadron (8th FS). No known nickname or nose art. The tail was painted with a white tail section with a black checker board pattern of the 49th Fighter Group (49th FG).

Mission History
On February 14, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield piloted by 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack, Jr. on a fighter sweep over Wewak. Flack was flying as "Yellow Flight" leader with wingman Lt. Jim Reynolds.

Over the target, Flack broke formation and went after a Ki-61 Tony then engaged in a turning dogfight with the fighter, resulting in a high g-force turn, and a head on attack against his opponent. Flack's fire hit the fighter, killing the pilot and the Tony crashed into the sea in a shallow dive, his second confirmed victory. Flack's wingman was Lt Jim Reynolds, confirmed his kill. But, machine gun fire from the Tony had damaged his cooling system, causing his oil pressure to rise.

Separated after the dog fight, Flack proceeded back towards base alone. Due to an overcast, he was unable to locate his wingman and was heard over the radio calling for Reynolds by other pilots in the formation during their flight back to Gusap Airfield.

Alone, Flack force landed in a field of kunai grass near the Sogram River northeast of Siniap in the Ramu Valley near Tauta, roughly sixty miles north of Gusap in an area that was behind enemy lines. During the landing, he was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken arm. When he awoke he exited the cockpit before the plane caught fire and exploded.

Immediately after Flack was reported missing, three L-5 Sentinels from the 25th Liaison Squadron "A" Flight took off from Gusap Airfield on a mission to locate and rescue Flack. Roughly sixty miles north, L-5 Sentinel 42-98066 piloted by MSgt Eugene Salternik was the first to spotted the burning P-40 wreckage. 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 and broke 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.

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, 1944 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 more L-5's took off from Gusap Airfield in an attempt to land at the landing ground. L-5 "Termite" 42-98085 piloted by James D. Nichols landed successfully but his landing gear went "spread eagle" damaging the airframe beyond repair and leaving a third person stranded at the site. Next, L-5 piloted Sgt Thomas Stallone successfully landed at the clearing, but was unable to take off carrying any additional passengers and departed alone. 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.

In 1946, a RAAF Searcher Team visited the wreckage on May 18, 1946, and noted the serial number, and that traces of the green and white checkerboard patter on the tail was still present (markings of 49th FG). The P-40 was burned around the cockpit and engine, but had otherwise made a good crash landing. Also, they discovered L-5 42-98066. This wreck remained in situ until 2004. During 2004, this P-40 was rediscovered by John Douglas.

In early June 2004, this P-40 was recovered by Robert Greinert / HARS and Murry Griffith / Precision Aerospace.  The engine and one wing was removed from the crash site, and flown to Madang where it was placed into storage then exported to Australia to Precision Aerospace at Wangaretta Airport.  After the salvage, a critical portion of the tail and rudder were transported to Australia by Murry Griffith.

Initially, this aircraft was sold to Gus Larard. During 2005, the restoration began with a new built wing set and fuselage. Only parts of the original tail section were used in the restoration. After the passing of Murry Griffith, the restoration was completed by the renamed company, Precision Airmotive. During 2011, sold by Platinum Fighter Sales to Doug Hamilton.

On October 14, 2015 this plane was registered in Australia as VH-PFO with the owner listed as Precision Airmotive Pty Ltd. After ten years of restoration, this P-40 made a first flight on March 6, 2016. Painted in the markings of Flack's aircraft, P-40N 42-104986. Starting in 2016, Classic Air / Classic Air Adventure Flights began offering flights in this aircraft from Wangaretta Airport.

Flack passed away on March 27, 1975 at age 51. He is buried at Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hartsville, PA.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Nelson D. Flack Jr.
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-5-CU Warhawk 42-104986

"104986 (49th FG, 8th FS) crash landed and w/o near Siniap, New Guinea Feb 14, 1944. Currently under restoration to airworthy condition by Precision Aerospace in Australia"
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: Flack, Nelson D. Jr. page 66 (PDF page 71)
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-40N Kittyhawk 42-104986
Protect and Avenge page 216 describes Flack's second kill. 234-235 Flack incident
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
FindAGrave - Maj Nelson D Flack, Jr (photo, grave photos)
Australian civil aircraft register - P-40N 42-104986 registration VH-PFO
WIN News Albury - A 1940s war plane took off from Wangaratta airport this morning after more than 10 years of restoration March 3, 2016 (0:10)
WIN News Albury - Warplane March 6, 2016 includes footage of this P-40 taxing and interview with owner Doug Hamilton and Precision Aerospace Mark Randell (1:17)
Facebook Classic Air (Classic Air Adventure Flights)
Thanks to Murry Griffith, Keith Hopper and John Douglas for additional information

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Last Updated
October 16, 2023


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