A memorable story from World War II.
Marion R. Simpson was drafted into the United States army in 1943 at the age of 19. He was transferred into the Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Army Air Force, and became one of the original members of the air transport command (ATC). This unit was formed to move essential supplies and personnel to the area of need. He and his crew flew out of Miami FL across the Atlantic, North Africa, the Middle East and into India, supplying the Air Force including those flying the “hump” into China.
This is one of the events he remembers:
…Another time, we left the Azores early in the evening for a long overwater flight to Bermuda. Normally this flight was about 14 hours without strong headwinds. As we passed the “point of no return”, somewhere over the Bermuda triangle, the aircraft engines began to sputter. Eventually all four engines quit. We were flying at just over 14,000 feet and went into a sharp downward glide. The engineer was working frantically to restart the engines. Finally, he got two of them going. By that time, we were down to about 3000 feet. The pilot pulled the plane out of the dive at 1000 feet.
Shortly afterwards he got the other two started. We had no further problems and continued on to Bermuda. Several times on flights, I had noticed the same plane grounded at various stops. A few months later, as we were crossing the Atlantic, we made an approach to the runway at Ascencion island. We were instructed to land on an alternate strip due to a crash on the main runway. After landing, we were told that plane that had no survivors. I casually mentioned it must have been #2197. Immediately, I was called up to the Provost marshal’s office and questioned.
They asked me, “how did you know the number of that crashed plane?” They told me that information had not been released. I explained the experience I had had on #2197 when all four engines had quit while we were flying from the Azores to Bermuda through the Bermuda triangle. I also told them I’d seen #2197 several times, sidelined at various bases where we had landed. This must have satisfied the Provost Marshall. He told me I could go.
The science of predicting weather has come a long way since the 1940s. At that time, they couldn’t track the path of the storm until it became a full hurricane. On one of the flights from Casablanca heading to the Azores, we picked up strong headwinds. This trip usually took approximately 6 hours flying time. We had been bucking headwinds since leaving Casablanca. By the time we approached the Azores, we had been in the air for 9 hours. We realized we were in the middle of a hurricane and that our destination, Lajes on the island of Terceira, in the Azores, was closed. We were instructed to proceed to Santa Marie Island. Conditions there were even worse. We were instructed to return to Lajes.
When we got there the flight controller told us we couldn’t possibly land! He said to ditch the plane in the ocean, and they would try to get a launch out to pick us up. Our captain said “no way!” We were coming in for a landing! At just that moment lightning struck the plane knocking out the radio, leaving us unable to communicate with the tower for further instructions. As we hit the runway, we skidded off onto the grass and stopped in the middle of the field. We had been in the air over 9 hours. When we measured the remaining gas in the plane, we found we had only 9 minutes fuel left.
Contributed by: Marion Simpson
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