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Salternik March 12, 1944
John Douglas 2004
Daniel Leahy 2004
|Pilot 1st Lt. Nelson D. Flack, Jr., O-736172 (survived) Hatboro,
Force Landed February 14, 1944
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.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 8th Fighter Squadron. 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.
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.
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.
On October 14, 2015 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.
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