Above and Beyond: Recovery: Bataan
- By Ralph Wetterhahn
- Air & Space magazine, August 2009
(Page 3 of 3)
That night I slept fitfully in my tent with the bones of Sergeant Kurosawa wrapped beside me. Outside, the wind howled while the Aetas crouched behind a boulder, trying to keep candles lit to appease the gods for disturbing the dead.
By sunup, thoroughly chilled and short of water and food, we returned to civilization, bringing with us the sergeant’s remains, to be turned over to Japanese authorities, plus numerous parts found at the Ki-27 site.
On Nasmyth’s patio at Subic Bay that evening, I assembled the Nate remnants. The barrel of one machine gun was curled like a pig’s tail. Its muzzle showed no abrasion, indicating that at impact, it had stuck firmly into the peat. The other gun had a smooth downward bend. Its muzzle showed abrasion, suggesting sliding contact with a boulder. The type of deformation indicated that at impact the barrels had been very hot. The weapon with the upward curl had been mounted on the right side of the engine cowl, the downward-bent weapon on the left. Reverse the positioning of the guns and you’d have to figure they had bent in the direction occupied by the engine block, likely an impossibility. For the guns to bend in opposite directions, the airplane probably was rolling right at impact. During his pull-up, the pilot was trying to align with the ridge. He nearly made it: 87 more feet and he would have cleared it. For the barrels to twist in the fashion they did, the pilot had to have been firing moments before impact. Kurosawa had likely been in a left turn while firing at something—the P-40? Since the machine guns’ empty shells are ejected through a chute, the discovery of the expended 7.7-mm round confirmed firing just prior to impact. Kurosawa then saw either his opponent hit the ridge or the ridge itself. If at that point Kurosawa had completed his firing pass, his nose would have been to the right of Stone’s aircraft when he saw the impact or ridge. In that case, the P-40 should be located slightly left of and lower than the Ki-27 crash site.
For decades, more than a dozen teams had looked for the P-40 in the wrong area. But before we could investigate, the rainy season set in.
After the ridge dried, I got an e-mail from Nasmyth dated Feb. 12, 2009:
Ralph, we sent Gary and 6 Aeta tribesmen up the mountain Monday the 9th of Feb, the 67th anniversary of the dogfight. They have found the plane.... I think this has to be Earl Stone’s site, can’t have been too many other planes out there within 400 yards of the confirmed Nate site.
On March 17, the search team and I began a two-day climb and descent on the Mariveles slopes. Some 350 yards beneath and to the left of the Nate wreckage lay the impact crater and debris of the P-40 flown by Earl Stone. We made some test digs, gathered parts to confirm the find, and notified the Joint POW/Missing-in-Action Accounting Command in Hawaii to begin the recovery of his remains.
The author of two books on search expeditions, Ralph Wetterhahn has appeared in numerous documentaries on aircraft archeology.