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Don Flickinger Grew to become a Jungle Adventurer to Save Crashed WW2 Airmen

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The Patkai mountains are small for the Himalaya: Solely 12,552 toes at their highest. However on August 2nd 1943, they proved too mighty for U.S. Air Transport Command’s Flight 12420. The Curtiss C-46 Commando (aircrews nicknamed it “The Flying Coffin”) was flying “The Hump,” a typically terrifying route from Assam in East India over the Himalaya to Burma and China. Among the many 21 passengers was Eric Savareid, a CBS Information correspondent on his option to report on the scenario in China.

Because the overloaded aircraft strained to clear the Patkai vary, its left engine misplaced oil stress and shut down. The pilots turned the aircraft round and commenced limping again in direction of India however the now overloaded proper engine burst into flames too. Because the aircraft veered in direction of the bottom all the crew strapped on parachutes and jumped into the steaming Burmese jungle under.

20 of the 21 survived the soar, however many had been severely injured. The battered crew took refuge in a neighborhood village the place the indigenous Naga tribe offered meals and shelter. The radio operator used a hand crank wi-fi to contact Air Transport Command, which dropped meals and provides. Later within the afternoon, one thing way more helpful arrived by parachute: Lt. Col Don Flickinger, the wing’s flight surgeon, together with two medics.

Savareid watched with amazement as three males floated down in direction of a hill exterior the village:

I obtained to the crest of the steep slope as the primary jumper floated previous, lacking the summit by a scant few yards. I may see the insignia of a lieutenant colonel on his Jacket shoulders. He grinned at me and I shouted foolishly: “Right here! We’re right here within the village.” He held up a finger in a crisp gesture, like a person strolling previous on a sidewalk, and mentioned in a conversational tone: Be with you in a minute.” Half-weeping, half laughing over the great absurdity of the assembly, I scrambled down the slope and slid to a halt earlier than him as he was brushing filth from his garments and starting to unwrap protecting bandage from his knees. He was a slim, carefully knit man of about 35, with cropped hair, and vivid darkish eyes in a brown, taut face. He smiled simply as we launched ourselves. “I’m Don Flickinger,” he mentioned. “I’m the wing surgeon. Noticed you wanted somewhat assist.”

Flickinger was the one man inside an inexpensive distance who was able to treating the downed crews’ accidents, and he’d realized that parachuting in would doubtless be the one option to attain them. The crew radioed that they’d be bailing out over the Naga Hills, an space completely uncharted. Uncooked jungle with no roads, trails or landmarks to assist with navigation. Rapidly, Flickinger picked two volunteer medics to accompany him on a rescue mission. The three males scrambled to place collectively a gear record for the jungle. He knew they’d need to depend on their very own wilderness expertise to outlive the journey, and struggled with what to deliver earlier than deciding on the fundamentals: machetes, blankets, torches, medication.

The survivors and rescue group of the downed flight. Flickinger is backside row, second from left, arms crossed.

Flickinger figured that if he was capable of fly over the crash zone, he hoped he may spot the wreckage or an indication of the survivors, then soar in to assist. He’d had made a couple of jumps throughout preliminary coaching in Hawaii, however the two medic volunteers him had little greater than an in-flight briefing from Flickinger on their option to the jungle. They trusted Flickinger although. When their aircraft noticed smoke indicating they’d discovered the survivors, Flickinger and his volunteers leaped by a gap within the fuselage, hoping for the most effective.

For 2 weeks, within the wild jungles of Burma, Flickinger nursed the crash survivors again to well being. Whereas there, Flickinger additionally arrange a clinic within the village the place he handled the Naga tribesman’s afflictions and constructed goodwill for any future rescues.

Typical rolling hills and mountains close to crash website. Photograph: Dhrubazaanphotography

With the get together restored to well being, Flickinger subsequent led a grueling six-day trek by the jungle again to security. Flickinger, as exhausted as the remainder of the get together, ran water up and down the column marching by relentless jungle warmth, up surprising elevation positive factors, with little meals. Thanks the steerage of the Naga, all however one of many males survived the journey.

His daring soar into the jungle led to many extra parachute rescue operations throughout the warfare, and finally the creation of the Air Drive’s Pararescue groups, whose males can rescue and deal with downed servicemembers anyplace on the earth. Flickinger and his two medics had turn into historical past’s first parachute rescue group.

Flickinger’s experiences in Burma sparked his fascination with survival in high-stress, harmful environments. In the course of the 1950s he developed survival fits and oxygen techniques that allowed pilots to outlive excessive altitude bailouts. His tinkering led to a job at NASA, the place Flickinger developed testing protocols and ran the choice course of for the Mercury Astronauts.

There, the identical adventurous and streak that drove the flight surgeon to leap out of airplanes led him to push boundaries on an institutional degree. In the course of the summer time of 1959, he traveled to the us with Randy Lovelace, a fellow flight surgeon and Director of NASA’s Life Sciences division. They discovered that the Russians had been severe about placing a lady in area, and Flickinger feared sexism may cost a little the U.S. the area race.

Flickinger approached NASA with the thought of testing feminine astronaut candidates within the late 50s, however the former generals working the company grounded his plans. They believed ladies bodily incapable of dealing with the calls for of area. Undeterred, Flickinger and Lovelace started testing feminine pilots with the identical battery of exams used on the Mercury astronauts. They hoped to win NASA over with exhausting knowledge.

Flickinger and Lovelace assembled essentially the most achieved feminine pilots within the nation for his or her program. The 13 ladies who ended up finishing the Section 1 exams had been known as the “The Mercury 13.”

Girls of the Mercury 13 group in entrance of the area shuttle, 1995. Photograph: NASA.

Flickinger’s program and the Mercury 13, nonetheless, had been casualties of President Kennedy’s single-minded give attention to getting a person on the moon. The shutdown led to Senate hearings on gender discrimination throughout the summer time of 1962, which agreed with NASA’s conclusion that this system was an pointless distraction. A lady didn’t make it into area till Sally Journey crewed the Area Shuttle Challenger in 1983.

After his retirement from the Air Drive in 1961 as a Brigadier Common, Flickinger continued his profession as a civilian advisor to NASA, refining excessive altitude survival tools and procedures. The investigation into the Challenger catastrophe confirmed that the crew might need survived in the event that they’d had Flickinger’s gear (It will definitely grew to become customary situation for astronauts).

Flickinger, by the best way, acquired a 10-day depart after rescuing the passengers of the downed flight 12420. He spent it in Calcutta, India. After making it comparatively unscathed parachuting deep into, then mountain climbing out of the center of the Burmese jungle, Flickinger grew to become severely in poor health after the seemingly innocent offense of consuming domestically made ice cream in Calcutta. He’d contracted amoebic dysentery from the ice cream. “Superb physician, me,” he reported.

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