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|Pilot 1st Lt. Gene Duncan, O-663024 (MIA / KIA) Orange County, CA
Ditched March 14, 1944 at 11:30am
Built by Republic at the Indiana Division of Republic Aviation in Evansville, IN. Constructor Number 671. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-47D-11-RA Thunderbolt serial number 42-22920. Disassembled and shipped overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) and reassembled.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 35th Fighter Group (35th FG), 39th Fighter Squadron (39th FS). No nose art or nickname. When lost, engine R-2800-63 serial number 42-126047. When lost, engine R-2800-63 serial number 42-126047. Armed with eight .50 caliber machine guns manufactured y Kelsey Hayes with serial number 659796, 672112, 672528, 671903, 671904, 672320, 658558 and 672227.
On March 14, 1944 at 9:50am took off from Gusap Airfield (No. 5 Strip) piloted by 1st Lt. Gene Duncan as flight leader of "Green Flight" flying an escort mission over Wewak. with wingman 1st Lt. Leroy V. Grosshuesch with element leader Lt. Mettler and element wingman 2nd Lt. James J. Querns.
The formation included four flights from the squadron. The weather was overcast with unlimited visibility at 20,000'. Inbound to the target, Lt. Mettler aborted the mission due to an engine leak. Between 11:15am to 11:25am, Duncan radioed that his engine was cutting out and he needed to be escorted and turned out to sea trailing black smoke and was also heard to radio "Gardenia" the rescue plane in the Schouten Islands but never heard any answer. Due to engine failure, the plane ditched at 11:30am near the mouth of the Sepik River about four miles from the north coast of New Guinea near Blupblup Island (Blup Blup Island).
Fate of the Pilot
After ditching safely, Duncan was observed to exit the aircraft and deploy his life raft before the plane quickly sank. He was observed by fellow P-47s in his life raft for two hours. He was not located when rescue aircraft arrived the next day. He was presumed dead and his case was closed after review on November 2, 1949.
Afterwards, 1st Lt. Leroy V. Grosshuesch circled his life raft from 10' to 1,000' while 2nd Lt. James J. Querns circled above providing top cover while the rest of the formation continued to the target. Both circling P-47s continued to radio "Gardenia" to arrange rescue without acknowledgment. They continued to track him as he drifted to the northeast until 6:50pm when their fuel was low and departed noting his last position at approximately Lat 03.40 Long 144.30. After two hours of circling his life raft, both P-47s were low on fuel.
Before departing, 2nd Lt. James J. Querns spotted an approaching plane from the mouth of the Sepik River and chased it inland. Arriving to relieve them was "Tubby Flight" but no radio contact was made and circled the area at 2,000' as 1st Lt. Leroy V. Grosshuesch attempted to get them to follow him down to the life raft while attempting to radio them without result and remained at 2,000' and he believed they never saw the raft nor did they ever acknowledge him before he too departed due to low fuel.
Wes Querns (son of Robert Querns):
"My father, Robert Querns was a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot who was over Duncan when he disappeared. I have heard the story dozens of times over the years. I will be glad to share details."
At 5:00pm after refueling, 1st Lt. Leroy V. Grosshuesch took off again to escort other P-47s led by Captain Widmann to the life raft and located him around 5:40pm and circled until the weather began closing in and they were forced to depart at 6:50pm before the rescue plane arrived.
On March 15, 1944 at 7:50am a rescue plane "Gardina 3" arrived escorted by three P-47s piloted by Captain Denton, Captain Widmann and 1st Lt. Leroy V. Grosshuesch who had seen the raft previously but could not locate the life raft. All they observed was a an outrigger canoe with three natives carrying what appeared to be fruit under a canvas cover paddling from Blupblup Island (Blup Blup Island) to Wai Island and appeared to wave and did not fear strafing. The rescue plane and P-47s searched the area for four hours without results before the P-47s departed due to low fuel while the rescue plane remained. No evidence of the life raft was observed but the pilots believed he might have reached an island, possibly Blup Blup Island.
Duncan was officially declared dead on January 19, 1946. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, posthumously. Duncan is memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Gene Duncan
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-47D-5-RE Thunderbolt 42-22920
"22920 (39th FS, 35th FG, 5th AF) in forced landing near mouth of Sepik River about 4 mi fro Blup Blup Island, Papua New Guinea due to engine failure Mar 14, 1944, SW Pacific. MACR 4112. Pilot survived and got into his rubber raft, but when a rescue plane arrived he was not to be found."
Missing Air Crew Report 4112 (MACR 4112) created March 17, 1944
NARA World War II Prisoners of War Data File does not list Gene Duncan as an official POW of the Japanese
PNG Museum Aircraft Status Card - P-47 Thunderbolt 42-22920
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gene Duncan
FindAGrave - 1Lt Gene Duncan (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - 1LT Gene Duncan (news)
Thanks to Kenneth D. Wilson for constructor number
March 14, 1944
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