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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lost Trans-Himalayan WWII Aircraft

An interesting article from Fox News:
Nothing James Browne learned in flight school prepared him for “The Hump,” a perilous, Himalayan no-man’s land that became a graveyard for hundreds of fearless WWII-era fliers who battled Japanese fighters, impossible weather and a supply route from hell.

Just 21 years old on Nov. 17, 1942, when he took the co-pilot’s seat of a C-47 bound for Dinjan, India, from Kunming, China, Browne was one of hundreds of fearless American fliers who took the infamous supply route over the Himalayas, ferrying supplies to China as it battled Imperial Japan. Browne, like many others, had signed on before the U.S. entered the war that was rapidly engulfing the globe.

“He was deeply aware of the threat to this country even though we were yet to declare war,” recalled Browne’s cousin, Bob Willett, now 85 and retired in Florida. “He said to himself, they need fliers and I’m a good one.”

Somewhere high above the Himalayas, the aircraft’s wings iced over. The best guess is that it stalled out and dropped like a rock, landing in the rugged mountain jungle, its location a mystery that would endure for more than 70 years. Browne, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Capt. John Dean, the pilot and a veteran of the legendary Flying Tigers, and a Chinese crewman were listed as missing in action.

The plane was one of hundreds to go down in the rugged and remote mountain region fliers dubbed “The Hump” by American fliers who dodged Japanese fighter planes, steering their unarmed and rickety aircraft for 20-hour stretches with unreliable instruments in winds that could reach 200 mph. Experts believe more than 700 planes crashed trying to surmount the Hump, making the Himalayan region an inaccessible tomb of legendary fliers and rusted fuselages. 
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Working off the last transmission from the plane, Kuhles eventually zeroed in on the summit ridge of Cangshan Mountain in Burma as the likely site of the crash. But it would take three trips, over five years, before he hacked through bamboo and high-altitude grass to finally lay his eyes on the plane he’d promised to find.

After climbing 14,000 feet, and being abandoned by all his guides and porters except a 17-year-old boy who spoke no English, “the impenetrable wall of bamboo, as tough as iron and sharp as razor-blades” yielded to Kuhles' machete. Gleaming in the sun was the wreckage of the C-47 transport plane in which Dean and his crew had been entombed.

“It was like stepping into an ancient Egyptian (pyramid),” recalled Kuhles. “I knew it was the plane I was looking for. Finally, Dean and the others would have a chance to come home.”
Read the whole thing.

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