Above and Beyond: Recovery: Bataan
- By Ralph Wetterhahn
- Air & Space magazine, August 2009
(Page 2 of 3)
I could see no large pieces of fuselage or wings nearby, so the site had likely been disturbed. We climbed down and I eased along the escarpment in both directions, trying to define a debris pattern. No matter how well a site has been scavenged, pieces too small to profitably salvage usually remain. But I found not a shred of material in either direction.
By now the porters had cleared vegetation from the engine. Both propellers had separated from the housing along the rotation axis, indicating the engine was still providing power at impact. The structure below and aft of the hub had been shoved inward, causing the engine mounts to fail, and the powerplant had somersaulted to its final resting place. A .50-caliber armor-piercing bullet had penetrated the gear box in front of the engine and jammed, unexploded, between two metal plates—a 90-degree deflection. It had no doubt caused an oil leak, and the spraying oil hitting the hot cylinders would have produced the white smoke that had been reported. Until the oil was depleted, engine power would have been unaffected.
My guide found one of the airplane’s 7.7-mm machine guns: soon, the other was recovered. A member of a later expedition found an expended 7.7-mm shell case under the engine.
The main debris field began 10 feet below the engine. Just under the peat-like surface, pocked with volcanic rock, lay metal fragments, wires, and bits of cable. A shredded fragment of a main gear tire turned up, showing evidence of fire and bearing a single clue—the Japanese symbols for “Bridgestone”—signifying the tire had been made by the Bridgestone Corporation in Japan. As I cleared away soil, a piece of curved canopy glass emerged on end, indicating it had penetrated the soil with high energy. This had to be the initial impact point.
Nine feet below the previous finds, the tail skid appeared, jammed into peat between two boulders. Using my compass, I figured that for the skid to make its way into the notch between the boulders, relatively undamaged, the aircraft heading must have been 080 degrees plus or minus five.
Using the tail skid, engine, guns, and cockpit fragments, aligned in an area 35 feet long, I determined the fuselage orientation, approximate aircraft heading, and initial impact point.
The next morning, along with Aeta guides Gary Montemayor and his son, Noel, I outlined the area where I thought we might find remains. We dug by hand to avoid starting an avalanche. I found a boot legging, then another. A boot heel turned up, then fragments of a skeleton.
Meanwhile, guide Jon Mar Benito led a second search party farther up the ridge looking for the P-40 site. Hours later they returned, dehydrated, exhausted, and empty-handed.