41-24634 C-46            (MACR 3011)

 

On 11 February 1944 a Curtiss C-46A Commando, # 41-24634, assigned to 1st Transport Group, 3rd Transport Squadron (Station 6), departed the airfield at Chabau, India, at 1027 Zulu for Kunming, China, on a cargo mission (Wolmite & 4 mail pouches) on its return flight to Chabau, India, flying through the Himalayan mountain range (the Hump). It crashed enroute. The crew was:

 

                                Pilot                             1st Lt Harry W. Poppell Jr.                               0-793835

                                Co-Pilot                       2ndLt John P. Starling                                      0-672701

                                Radio Operator            MSgt William R. Houghton                             6716531

                                Engineer                      Pvt John W. Wyatt                                            17068468

 

It was about 2 hours out of Kunming, China, in the vicinity of Pimau, Burma, when it was caught in a downdraft (windshear) between mountain ridges, it rapidly lost altitude from 23,000’ to the height of the mountains it was flying through (13,000’). Airspeed was between 105-115 MPH. The aircraft functioned properly but, the pilot was unable to climb and fearing a crash, the crew was ordered to throw out the cargo and bail out. When 2ndLt Starling reached the open cargo door, he found that MSgt Houghton and Pvt Wyatt hesitating to jump. Lt Starling ordered the men to jump and set an example by jumping. The altitude was about 12,000’. His parachute opened within a few seconds and he landed on the side of a mountain to end up hanging from a tree. It was raining and he used his parachute for protection from the weather. He spent the night there and made his way down the mountain (falling at times in jungle) the next day and contacted Kachin natives (Wyatt met a Kachin named Yo Yin) and Starling met Nee Chang in mid-afternoon. Nee Chang said the Japanese (a 50- man force) were about ½ mile away and guided Starling to British & American forces. He climbed through snow, was sick but kept going to Nee Chang’s hut. Bon Chang, another native Kachin, told him about Wyatt and that two men died in the crash. The Kachin hid him from Japanese search parties. Four days later natives told him that Pvt Wyatt had been found but he was injured and in no immediate danger. Wyatt had 3rd degree burns of the left leg and could not be moved. Lt Starling moved ahead to obtain medical aid. Six days later, he reached British Intelligence quarters and found that Wyatt received medical aid and was being brought there. Five days later they were reunited at a cave. A Japanese 5-man search party were within 50’ of the cave. Pvt Wyatt reported that he followed Lt Starling out of the C-46. He was not sure but instantly after jumping, the C-46 crashed into a mountain and exploded. Wyatt was so near that his left leg was burned. He was unsure whether or not his parachute opened or was blown open by the explosion. Wyatt also suffered minor cuts and scratches. Both Starling and Wyatt made it to Fort Hertz. Natives at the crash site there were scattered portions of human remains of two bodies which indicated the pilot and MSgt Houghton were in the C-46 when it crashed. They found Ninghyi or Ngumla village on 6 March 1944. There Starling met Capt. Milton, U.S. Army and Capt. Frown of the British Army. They were taken to U.S. Navy doctor, Commander Luce.