Welcome to our memorial site for 2015 . . .

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It is time for Thanksgiving and this is my thanks!

This is a reawakening of our Flying Tiger 923 memorial site, some two years since my last posting. It happens to be Thanksgiving Day 2016, November 24, and in large measure because of this memorial website, I can say from the bottom of my heart, “Thank You,” to the hundreds of folks who have contributed to my being here today.

When I say hundreds of folks, I feel I am making an understatement as I have met so many of you since launching “Flying Tiger 923” in 2009. Everyone has been wonderful, including those whom I have met, those whom I have spoken to by phone and those whom I know were distant from the event but feel a part of the disaster. This includes the 1,500 Canadian sailors aboard the silently trailing, protective aircraft carrier, the Bonaventure and several hundred more serving on the five battleships that escorted the carrier.

When I started my personal investigation of the crash some 35 years after September 23, 1962, I knew practically nothing about the event or the people involved. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an aircraft carrier that was following and searching for us! The research resulted in my book, “Born Again Irish,” a story about Flying Tiger 923 and how it drove me into an interesting and diverse life.

When I say how little I knew about what happened is probably the same for most survivors. No one knew much of anything. An airplane crash happening at night during a terrible storm in the North Atlantic at that time in 1962 was simply one of many events dominated by the world-wide drama of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought it was related to the construction of the Berlin Wall and the 880-mile-long “Death Fence” that separated East Germany from the West. Those two global dramas were related as “Cold War Events” that captured the media attention.

After the Flying Tiger crash, the rescue of the survivors occurred in two separate and dramatic phases; the first at Cork, Ireland of only 19 people (which I was lucky to be a part of) and the second at Antwerp, Netherlands for the remainder of the survivors.

Since I was one of the 19 combat paratroopers on board, I was of course first concerned about my Army buddies. I did not know a single non-combat passenger who made up the majority of the survivors. Considering our extremely close physical contact during those long hours in the lone rescue raft, and several days in the Swiss rescue ship, the Celerina, very little social interaction occurred, in part due to the extreme physical and emotional shock we had all undergone. For most survivors, when it was over, it was thankfully over. There had never been a memorial for the event or a reunion prior to our celebrations in Ireland in 2012, 50 years later.

So now, even more years later, I say thank you. Thank you to all of you, even those who didn’t make the flight and those who lost loved ones. All the passengers on Flying Tiger 923 shared a tiny bit of time in human history. It was just a little bit of time in human history, but it was a major factor in our own timelines. I appreciate sharing a bit of it with you and thankful that I am here, at this moment in Eagle, Colorado, to say with heartfelt feelings, “Thank You All,” for being here wherever you are.

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About this memorial website

By Fred Caruso, aka “O’Caruso”

Fred Caruso 2012

Fred Caruso 2012

I was there on September 23, 1962, a young paratrooper, headed for Germany and wishing I didn’t have to go. I wanted to stay in the states. I was barely 21. The crash of Flying Tiger 923 was a horror. It has  affected my family and me far more, and for many years longer, than I could have ever imagined.

The drama of the crash stretched on for hours and then into days. I was taken from the rescue ship by helicopter three days later to Mercy Hospital in Cork, Ireland, where I claim to have been “born again as an Irishman.” It was my second chance at life, beginning with my rebirth at Mercy, even though I never got to see if there was a maternity ward at that hospital.

The notion of being “Born Again Irish” has driven me my entire life. It led to my ultimately becoming a legal Irishman, nicknamed “O’Caruso.” My wife and I have a home in Glengarriff, West County Cork. I wrote a book entitled  “Born Again Irish”” about the experience and that book woke me up to the fact that I hardly knew anything about

Fresh Out of Jump School

Pvt. Caruso, fresh out of jump school.

the crash, other than what I believe I saw and experienced. I realized that I could hardly remember another person, no faces at all. I could remember very, very few of the details of the crash and aftermath with any degree of accuracy. And even worse, I realized that I couldn’t even expand my mind to accept the details by reading about others. I could read, but I could not see. Others hardly existed. When it came to Flying Tiger 923, it was MY plane crash and mine alone, at least inside my mind.

But after all of these years, I have been waking up. While gathering information for my book and this web site, I have become aware of how many people were involved and how many and who contributed to our survival and recovery. How could I not have known? Why has it taken so long? Was I asleep for the past half century? Maybe I have finally grown up and I am ready to learn all of the facts that I can, all of the little bits and pieces I didn’t see before.

Caruso as Army Journalist

As a result of a story about Flying Tiger 923, Caruso became a reporter and photographer, for the Army and Stars and Stripes

This site is intended to be a commemoration to all:  the crew, the rescue teams, those who survived and those who didn’t, and all of the families and friends who prayed, rejoiced or grieved their loss. This is an interactive web site. Readers can comment and contribute photos and information. This is a way of gathering stories and experiences and sharing it with who ever might have an interest.

Born Again Irish - The book

Book Cover

Please be aware that some of the posts may contradict details in others. This is because people’s recollection of events do not always comprise the whole story. It is human nature. Even newspaper reports contain major inaccuracies. By piecing together as much as possible, we may have a comprehensive view of the event which is much larger than any one of the participant’s view.

Please add your comments. Tell us of your experiences, your memories and your questions. What is on your mind?A fifty-year anniversary is a good reason for taking a new look at this tragic and historic event which, for many, was the most significant event in their lives.

If you have not yet done so, read my book and consider how this event might affect others compared to the way it affected me. This book describes how I was driven to become Irish, which was a lifelong journey, however, the first half of the book delves into the details of the horror of the crash and its immediate aftermath. It is currently out of print. but it is available on Amazon.com.

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A look at the web site record

As this Flying Tiger 923 Memorial Web Site meets the end of three full years of public posting of 106 stories, we take pride in the fact that we have enjoyed some 61,000 public views world-wide.

Of course, the majority of those 61,000 views originate from the United States, (29,916). Other countries show a keen interest in the event as well especially when considering the ratio of views compared to their population. Among those with a high number of visits are:

USA, 29, 916
Germany, 8,047
Switzerland, 7,333
Ireland, 3,377
Canada, 2,363
United Kingdom, 1,152

At least one person from every country on earth has viewed the legacy of Flying Tiger 923.

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STORY POPULARITY:

It is curious to note the popularity of stories in terms of their views. Here is a summary of the top five postings of the 106 stories written:

1 – John Murray: Fate of 76 lives in Captain’s hands, 1,129 views, of which 185 were on the second posting of the same story.

2 – Pierre Andre Raymond: The Celerina’s role in rescuing a Super-Constellation at sea, 1,044 views.

3 – Carol Ann Gould: Flight attendant on her day off, 947 views. Carol Ann actually had three different stories posted separately with quite different themes. They were not added together for the purpose of this summary.

4 – A photo of Super Connie #N6923C – RIP, 923 views. This was the actual Flying Tiger 923 on the tarmac of Gothenburg Torslanda airport in Sweden one year prior to the crash. The photo was provided by Ragnar Domstad who was then a junior at Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg. He was an engineering student arranged chartered flights to the U.S. on the Flying Tiger Line.

5 – Who is in the photo?,  846 views. This was a group photo of random survivors and ship crew members on board the Celerina in the days after the rescue.

6 – Flying Tiger 923 and the Raging North Atlantic. While this is not a story, but rather a video related to the story, it has been very popular with internet viewers. To date, the video clip has had more than 2,000 viewings! Pierre Andre Raymond was a 19-year-old crew member on the Celerina who happened to have an old 8 millimeter movie camera with him on ship. He took three minutes of video of the raging seas just 12 hours before the crash, not knowing what excitement was to come. He gave us that film strip for public posting.

Since the beginning of the project, many early viewers were satisfied with what they read and dropped off the radar. At the same time, many new viewers have discovered the site and have taken to viewing its contents. Therefore we will continue with the site in hopes of finding still more who were on board or the families of both those who died and those who survived.

In summary, over the course of the past three years, the story of Flying Tiger 923 has risen from being virtually unknown to the world, to a site for thousands of people who were affected by the crash or who have an interest in airlines and air tragedies.

Thank you for your interest and best wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year! We look forward to 2015 and another year of spreading the story and hopefully picking up more stories related to the tragedy.

Here’s a lovely Flying Tiger 923 memorial poem by our friend Garret Ahern, Dublin, Ireland:

‘Big Bird’

Out from New Jersey,
Big bird spreading wings,
Trundling east-ward, in
War-cold nineteen-sixty-two.

Three-score souls and ten-
And more aboard,
Service by the
Rhine in mind.

Far beneath lies rolling
Equinoctial ocean,
Unfriendly to the stricken
Super-Constellation.

Big bird descending,
Inevitable ditching.
Frantic prayers implore –
Then impact, devastation.

Plucked from the inverted,
Overcrowded, life-raft,
The lucky greet new
Friends and shipmates.

In time, diverted,
The good ship “Celerina”
Nears its rendezvous.
Green fields plain to see.

By Galley Head, the
Helicopter’s clatter
Stampedes a flock of sheep,
Away west, wave-battered
Big bird settles,
Low in the briny deep.

© 2012, Garry Ahern

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Peter Foley tells the world of the demise of Flying Tiger 923

By Teresa Foley

At the time of the Flying Tiger ditching in the North Atlantic, Peter Foley was in the Air Force and had reached the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. He was assigned to the Stars and Stripes and was returning to his family in Germany after having completed a special reporting assignment in the United States.

Peter Foley

Peter Foley only days after the ditching and rescue.

He managed to survive the disaster and was able tell the world about it. It was a shocking, violent, and grueling experience that lasted for days for everyone involved. As a news reporter, he bounced back nearly immediately to fulfill his mission.

As Peter Foley’s daughter, I got to know him as a man with a long and colorful career and a loving dedicated family man. I am using this web site as a means of telling his story.

*   *   *   *   *

Pete Foley was a cheerful and vibrant man who loved life and had strong survival instincts. Those instincts were severely tested a number of times.

As a very young man with a love of excitement, he joined the Merchant Marines soon after getting out of school in the late 1930s. After a brief stint of service, Peter returned to his hometown of Butte, Montana went to work in the copper mines that dominated city and its surroundings.

He was a “motorman” and it was his responsibility to drive the ore cars in and out of the vast maize of dangerous tunnels being mined.  He tells us that one day, a tunnel caved in, trapping many men inside. It was the “worst and the hottest” of tunnels in the mine. He escaped the disaster. Luckily, the trapped miners found an airway to crawl through until they reached a spot where rescuers could drop metal cages and pulled them out.

Pete later enlisted in the US Army Air Forces. During World War II, he worked as an airplane mechanic.  He wasn’t in combat but again escaped death in 1945.

At the age of 28, he was on a cargo plane that got lost and ran low on fuel.  According to Pete, “I was on leave, going to visit somewhere.  I happened to pick the wrong plane.”

Everyone on board was able to parachute out of the plane before it crashed.  Pete described his free-fall through clouds and with birds, as a thrill – not a fright, and an experience that ended too soon.  His parachute landing was smooth and something he “thoroughly enjoyed”.

He served in Korea from May 1950 through June 1953. His decorations included the Bronze Star, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

After Korea, Pete attended and was graduate of the Armed Forces Information School and the Strategic Air Command NCO Academy.

In 1951, Pete married Mary Wallace of Helena, Montana in Yakahoma, Japan. Like many military families, the Foley’s had duty stations throughout the United States and the world.

In 1962, after completing an assignment in Nevada for Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper in Europe, he boarded Flying Tiger Flight 923 to return home to his pregnant wife and five children in Darmstadt, Germany.

As problems began to unfold, another passenger asked him if one of the four engines quit running, how the plane would fare.  Pete’s response was to  “stop worrying, this plane could fly forever”.

Then the second engine failed. After the third engine failed he, and everyone else, knew the plane was in trouble, but there was no time to panic. Following is how Pete described his experience:

“Another soldier and I yanked out the escape hatch next to us and dropped into the water.  I tried to get my life vest inflated, but I couldn’t.  I was carried by waves toward the rear of the plane.  It had sunk so deep that my head was level with the top of the fuselage.  I decided not to waste any more time on the life jacket and began to swim.  The waves buried me a couple of times.  People were all around me.  There were cries of ‘Where are the boats?’ But no rafts were in sight.  It was dark and windy, and giant waves were pitching us around.”

“I thought I felt a wing under my feet.  It was the tail.  Then a wave slammed me against the antenna.  It’s strung from the top of the forward cabin to the top of the tail.  I threw my left arm over it.  I scraped the arm and it hurt.  I thought it was a good time to rest for a moment.  I kept telling myself not to panic.  Once you panic, you’ve had it. ”

“After a few moments I realized it was calm.  I kept waiting for a wave to break over me.  Then I realized the plane was sinking and I was under water,  I let go and swam slowly to the surface.”

“I was tired, dead tired.  How easy it would be to quit fighting the sea and get it all over with.  It would be so easy to die.  Just stop fighting for half a minute. I shook my head, realizing this was a hell of a way to go.”  I also knew how mad Mary would be if I didn’t return home.

“Then I spotted a raft.  It was just a shadow and it seemed a long way off.  I managed to swim over to it and held on to a rope.  I got my head up far enough to see inside, but I couldn’t get in.  I asked for help.  Someone said he didn’t have the strength.  Then he grabbed my arms and somebody else pulled me in by the seat of my pants.”

The Celerina arrived when “it was early morning, but still dark. . . A sailor pulled me onto the deck.  I said I was all right, then fell on my face.  Somebody caught me and helped me into the crew’s mess, where I was given warm clothes and a jolt of whiskey. I couldn’t pick it up. A sailor poured it down my throat.  It felt wonderful.”

While on the Celerina, Pete did what he could to help, all-the-while thinking, “How do I get this story back?” to his boss at the Stars and Stripes. He found a way to radio stories each day. “I don’t  think I even thought about dying.  Time passed so quickly, it seemed like the next thing I knew I was waving at Mary.  All I knew was I was back where I belonged.”

Whenever Pete talked about this plane crash, he would sadly mention the children; he never saw the girls after the plane hit the water.  His family had to fly from Germany to New York, when he was transferred to Travis AFB in 1963. After his family boarded the plane, Pete went to airmen in the plane and made them promise to help his kids in case anything happen.  He then introduced each airman to the child he was responsible for.  Mary said she was sure most of the people thought he was a crazy old sergeant.

Peter Foley waving to onlookers at Antwerp, Belgium.

Peter Foley, 2nd from the left, waving to the gathering crowd as the rescue settles into port at Antwerp, Belgium. To his right is a fellow ditching survivor, air hostess Carol Ann Gould. To both edges of the photo are unidentified Celerina crew members who took part in the rescue of the lone life raft.

Pete retired from the Air Force in 1965 and moved his family to Citrus Heights, California (a suburb of Sacramento).

He was a smart person, loyal to family and friends, an enthusiastic supporter of his family activities, an adventurer, a teacher, a hard worker and a wonderful example of how to get a job done. He and his family were very active in community and school activities. They loved to travel, camp, boat, water and snow ski, ocean dive and always enjoyed a good party.

In 1981, Pete and Mary bought a struggling business that supplies beneficial insects for pest control and turned it into one of the large supplier of ladybugs in the US.  In 2001, Pete and Mary celebrated their 50th anniversary.  Later that year, Pete lost his battle with melanoma and died in November.

People often say they would die for someone they love. Pete’s character, however, was to focus his strength and energy on living for the people he loved and helping them to have a good life.  Pete Foley lived a very good life.

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This story was first published on July 5, 2013, as written by his daughter, Teresa. She discovered this web site and soon thereafter discovered her father’s military career keepsake box. That gave her the material and incentive to submit this story. 

Site Editor’s Note: I became a news reporter while in the Army and while serving at Mainz, Germany as a paratrooper-infantryman. As a fledgling reporter (and still a paratrooper-infantryman, but on special assignment),  I had come to see Peter Foley as a role model, even though he was no longer at The Stripes. He had been reassigned to other duty.

In 1964, much by virtue of very good fortune, I was assigned to the Stars and Stripes news desk in Darmstadt. I was one of only four military staffers. The rest of the newspaper staff was civilian.  At that point, Foley rose from “role model” to “hero” in my mind and remained that way though out my working career. I never had any personal contact with him or his family. I only had news clippings of his work. I had no way of ever knowing him as compete person. His daughter, Teresa, has given me that opportunity. I am honored to be the person to pass that story to you. — Fred Caruso

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Trooper survivor memorializes Flying Tiger 923 in leather

leather-coasterPaul Stewart of Fisco, Texas surprised three of his fellow survivors with beautiful mementos of Flying Tiger 923. They were in the form of round table coasters etched in leather.

The lucky recipients were former paratrooper Gordon Thornsberry of Russellville, Arkansas, former paratrooper Fred Caruso of Eagle, Colorado, and former Stewardess Carol Ann Gould Hansen, of Pequannock, New Jersey. Ms. Hansen was on the flight as a last minute replacement for a colleague who was not able to work as stewardess that day due to illness. The two paratroopers, Thornsberry and Caruso, were in the same Army parachute unit as Stewart, all stationed at Lee Barracks in Mainz, Germany.

The parachute wings are to specifically memorialize the airborne combat troops on board. Those troops comprised nearly half of all passengers on board.

When asked how he came up with the idea for the memento, Stewart said:

“Leather is a hobby, that I started years ago, and something that I really enjoy. Have only made things for family and friends. Started with belts, and when people saw them they wanted to buy, but as was working, and not having the time, I stopped doing leather craft for a while.

“I like to make things that are sort of one of a kind – even made some western gun holsters for friends.  Have never sold any of the items, and really never put any thought into any of that.

Stewart hand stamps everything, including the image of the parachute wings. Each parachute wing has been hand cut. No embossing dyes used, except for lettering.

When pressed about how much a set of coasters might cost, he reluctantly offered, “With parachute wings and lettering of “Flying Tiger 923”, $75 for a set of six, or $15 each for 1 to 5 coasters.”

[Editor’s note: I was one of the three recipients of the memento. I am getting a photo of my coaster (as seen above) printed on a porcelain coffee cup so I see it often. Has anyone else created a personalized memorial of Flying Tiger 923?]

 

 

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Life raft story stirs reader responses

Super Constellation #N6923C - Photo by Ragnor Domstad, June 1961, on the tarmac of Gothenburg (Sweden) Torslanda airport.

Super Constellation #N6923C – Photo by Ragnor Domstad, June 1961, on the tarmac of Gothenburg (Sweden) Torslanda airport.

We were told repeatedly during the preparation drills, “The life rafts stored in both wings will eject and inflate automatically on impact..” If that were so, what happened to them?  

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A seasoned airman, Stef Ballis, wrote, “I flew and worked on Super Constellation N6922C, which was a sister ship of the ditched aircraft, N6923C. The answer to the question above is simple. The statements by the crew members were incorrect!

“I have a complete L-1049H Operations Manual issued in 1966 by Flying Tiger Air Services (a subsidiary of the Flying Tiger Line), which was basically a copy of the Flying Tiger Line manual. The manual reads:

‘There are four wing rafts, two in the left wing and two in the right. The wing rafts are released by pulling a ‘T’ handle, which is in the aft side of the window frame of the aft emergency exit over the wing. The ‘T’ handle is connected to both the inboard and outboard rafts on that side of the aircraft and when it is pulled out approximately 12 inches, it releases the locking pins on both the bin doors and opens the CO2 valve on the rafts.’

“I remember the T-handle that released the rafts.

“The exact reference is: Emergency Procedures/Ditching on Water/Launching Life Rafts, found on page 1.11.5.”

[The deployment of rafts was dependent upon human intervention.]

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From Pierre-Andre Reymond, a crew member of the rescue ship Celerina and a lifelong seaman and ship appraiser, we have a report on the subject of life rafts on FT923:

“Yesterday evening I had another look at the CAB Accident Report FT 923, File no. 1-0028, published by the Civil Aeronautics Board and released September the 13, 1963. Here are quotes as the report says it:

On page 10: Sometime before ditching, two soldiers-passengers, at the direction of the crew, removed the emergency life raft stowed in the crew compartment and placed it in front of the left rear main exit door where it was tied down.

Page 11: Just prior to ditching, the navigator went into the cabin and removed the tie down strap from the life raft.

Page 12: Immediately after opening the main cabin door, the navigator pushed out the life raft. Since the lanyard provided for the life raft’s retention was not tied to the aircraft nor was it held by the navigator when he launched the raft, it drifted away requiring him to jump into the water to retrieve and inflate it.

Page 13: In addition to the 25-man life raft stowed in the crew compartment, the aircraft carried four 25-man life rafts which were stowed in four compartments, two in each wing aft of the rear spar. A cable control, actuated by a handle located inside the jamb of of the aft over-the-wing exits, sequentially unlatches the wing compartments cover doors and opens the valves to the CO2 cylinder of each raft on that of the aircraft. As each raft inflates, it ejects itself automatically from the compartment. The stowed rafts in the in the left wing can also be released by actuating a lever in the cockpit. In addition to these releases there is a release mechanism on each wing life raft compartment. 

Page 14: The captain was asked the location in the cockpit of the release handle which actuates the life rafts stowed in the left wing compartments. He was not aware that there was such a handle in the cockpit. 

Page 14: None of the life rafts stowed in the wings was seen by the survivors during the evacuation; however all rafts were later recovered. There was no evidence that these rafts were used by any of the non-survivors.

Page 31: Failure of the left wing deprived the survivors of the life rafts stowed therein. Rafts on the right side were never seen by the survivors even though many exited through the right-over-the-wing exits. However these were later recovered and found inflated. The reason for loss of the right wing stowed rafts is not clear from the testimony. The difficulty in opening the right rear over-the-wing exit may have contributed to the problem. Extended operation of this airplane at low temperatures could have increased the inflation time for these rafts materially, resulting in the rafts not inflating in time to be useful.

Page 32, recommendations: The unavailability of the wing life rafts leads the Board to question the advisability of their being externally stowed. Their unavailability can be attributed to the loss of the left wing and/or in the increase in inflation time resulting from the decrease in the temperature of the CO2 after prolonged flight at high altitude.

“So here we are Fred… Where is the mistake? Where have been found the two rafts? Have they been examined? If so, by who? None of the survivors could see the rafts, but do they exist? And what about the raft found with the body of a stewardess?

In a second email on the same subject sent that same day, Reymond said, “I must say that if a raft is not attached with a line to the airplane or ship, the wind will blow it very quick and far away (my personal experience as ship officer). Also, a raft is not built to keep inflated until the eternity. It can be flat within 24 hours (my knowledge as a certified life raft operator).

To be clear, it seems that the airplane was not fitted with all the safety equipment. I also see that it was very embarrassing for the government. I have been reading the accident report and also question if there was more to the story.

*     *     *     *    *     *

Comment by survivor Fred Caruso:

As a survivor and one involved with the right wing exit, I take issue with the statement on page 31 of the report, which says in part:

. . . The difficulty in opening the right rear over-the-wing exit may have contributed to the problem. . . .

I used the right rear over-the-wing exit for my escape. My eyes were fixated on that window. I was intent on being the first one out. Immediately after impact, I released my seat belt, jumped out of my seat, jumped over the broken seats in front of me, and tore that window out of the wall. I was out and I am pretty sure I was the first one. I don’t recall any problems in opening that window. There were no life rafts.

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Comment by survivor Paul Stewart:

Seeing this post [about the life rafts] brought back some memories of the crash. The stewardess’, after all of the ditching drills and instructions, moved some of the troopers to different seats. They moved me to an aisle seat over the right wing ( the 3 seat side) next to the rear exit, and gave instructions to the trooper next to the exit how to remove the exit window, and how to operate the manual pull handle that would automatically activate the rafts. These instructions were covered by the stewardess shortly before impact, and she took the middle seat.  She did not survive. Once in the water, as you know, this was an impossible task.

Having only one raft may have been a blessing. With only 20 to 25 people on a raft they could have been tossed from one side to the other, and the raft more than likely would have flipped over with the size of the waves.  There were numerous times I thought we were going to flip over, and as you know we were packed so tight, that there was no shifting of weight as were packed like sardines.

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Where did all of the life rafts go? There were supposed to be five. Right?

After nearly three years of research and reporting, this writer has pretty well described what happened and who was involved in the incident in addition to passengers and crew. In the process of all of this research, questions were raised about the “why” of some of these events. Specifically:

1) Where did the life rafts go? Why was there only one life raft when passengers were told repeatedly that there was to be five?

2) Why did the engines quit?

3) Why was the U.S. Army so silent about the incident? And why did passengers get so little press exposure and social treatment as might be expected from such a tragedy?

This posting is restricted only one of the questions:

Where did the life rafts go?

Only one life raft seemed to be available for survivors. Fifty one of 76 persons were rescued and all of them were in the same single 25-person life raft. Three died before the trip ended.

Everyone was told that there were five life rafts: one inside the cabin and two in storage bays on each wing. Everyone was instructed on how to board the rafts that came out of each wing.

In the end, only two rafts were recovered. The Swiss ship Celerena intercepted the one overcrowded raft with its cargo of 51, and the second raft by a voluntary search vessel that quickly turned it over to the Canadian carrier Bonaventure. This leaves three life rafts unaccounted for.

Two life rafts were assumed to be lost when the left wing was sheared off on impact. The life rafts stored in the both wings were to eject and inflate automatically on impact. We were told that repeatedly during the preparation drills. Why didn’t they inflate on impact when the wing sheared off? It was automatic.

What about the other two stored in the right wing? One was found by a now deceased Flying Tiger 923 crew member, a woman, who was able to get on board. That one life raft was retrieved by a search vessel and that lone passenger was found dead on arrival. What about the other?

The Civil Aeronautics Board accident report released on September 13, 1963 states “none of the life rafts stowed in the wings were seen by survivors during the evacuation; however, all rafts were later recovered. There was no evidence that these rafts were used by any non-survivors.”

It seems to me that they did very little research into the matter. And they glossed over the matter very quickly.

Air Force Major Harry Benson, who was a passenger and survivor, was very familiar with the aircraft. He had piloted the same model aircraft while on active duty. He told other reputable passengers that he set his eye on the life raft bay closest to the passenger cabin prior to impact. His plan was get out of the aircraft immediately after impact so he would go directly to the storage bay to release the life raft himself. He would then help others to board the raft.

Major Benson was “almost“ able to execute maneuver as planned, except for one problem. When he got out on the wing and opened the raft bay, the bay was empty. No life raft there!

The other raft assumed to be on the same wing apparently opened and blew off in the wind away from the panicked passengers. Somehow a stewardess found her way into that raft and she died before a chance for rescue.

As said in the beginning of this story, everyone aboard Flying Tiger 923 expected five life rafts to be waiting for them. Of course, in the chaos created by impact, the number of rafts was of little importance as long as there was one available for boarding.

While survivors were thrilled to be alive, there were a few serious rubs with the issue of one raft.

The team of troopers that pulled people into the over-crowded life raft at one point felt that the over crowding posed a a serious danger to everyone. They felt that the survivors not yet inside the raft should go find another raft. One of those dedicated but realistic rescuers let his thoughts slip past his lips. He said, a little too loudly, “the raft’s too crowded. Go to another raft.”

He might have whispered those words as an escaping thought, but to some of those thrashing about in the frigid sea trying to get to safety, including me, it sounded like an announcement shouted over a bullhorn. I was still outside, hanging on to the slippery rubber and I could not get in. I panicked at the very thought. All I heard was “the raft’s too crowded” and my mind completed the thoughts with “there is no more room. No room for me.” I immediately screamed my lungs out, begging to get in. Someone already inside took pity and pulled me in. (I was not the only one experiencing that situation.)

Air Force Capt. Juan Figueroa, MD, called for his wife as he desperately clung to the outside of the slippery raft. She was still inside and alive. Her shouts seemed to be coming from what seemed to be a distance. Dr Figueroa shouted back to he to assure her he was OK and told her that he was getting on “another” raft. He did not see her or hear her again, even though they were not more than a few feet apart. He was certain they were in different rafts over crowded rafts..

Soon after the rescue by the Celerina crew, and all survivors were accounted for, his wife sent him a note by way of a ship’s crew member telling him that she was saved and nearby. Dr. Figueroa was having mixed thoughts about the lifeboat situation. He asked a question of the message bearer before he left the cabin. Dr. Figueroa asked, “how many rafts made it to the rescue”?

The answer he got was “one.” No other words.

And there he learned how close he was to his wife, but yet they were so far apart. They never saw one and other or heard each others voice during the entire six hour ordeal.

Can you imagine the shock Major Benson must have had when he discovered that the life raft bay on the wing was empty? And incidentally, there was no evidence that ever was anything in there.

In the end, survivors were all happy that they were among those “miraculously” saved. One raft was all that was they needed for their salvation. There were so many things to be happy about.

The image below was given nearly a full page in a story about the crash and rescue that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in late 1962.

Packed like sardines.

51 people packed in a raft for 25.

Posted in flight crew, new combat troopers, passengers, rescue teams | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Those on board Flying Tiger 923 on the night of September 23, 1962

Few details were available on survivors and deceased during the first days following the crash of Flying Tiger 923. One of the first stories was from the New York Times.  That story consisted of a list of those on the plane. It separated the crew from the passengers, and these two categories were separated again as those surviving the ordeal, those who died and those who were still missing at sea. The Times did not attempt to separate by Army, Air Force, Navy and so forth.

The listing below uses the same names, however they are separated into three categories: 1-crew, 2-regular passengers and 3-combat troops. Please take note of the key to markings.

Key to markings:
(**) = story written and posted
(+) = contact made with person or family and either declined interview or provided no information, or
(no mark) = can’t locate, no story available

Aboard Flying Tiger 923 the night of September 23, 1962:

Surviving crew:

**MURRAY, Capt. John D., Oyster Bay, LI, pilot
**NICHOLSON, Samuel T., Dallas, PA, navigator
**GOULD, Carol Ann, Lyndhurst, NJ, flight attendant

Deceased crew:

BROTMAN, Jacqueline L., Chicago, IL, flight attendant.
**GARRETT, James E., Brentwood, Long Island, NY, flight engineer
MUDD, Ruth, Brown Mills, NJ, flight attendant.
PARKER, Robert W., Port Washington, Long Island, NY, co-pilot
**SIMS, Betty A., New York City, NY, flight attendant.

Surviving passengers (excluding combat troopers):

ALEPOS, Sgt. Juan J, Killeen, TX
**BENSON, Maj. Harry O., Marshfield Hills, MA
**BODUNG, Sgt. 1st Class Alfred, Indianapolis, IN
+CRAPOLICCHIO, Spec. 4 Anthony M., South Arlington, VA
**DENT, Lieut. Col. George H., Fredericksburg, VA
**ELANDER, Maj. Carl R., West Point, NY
**ELANDER, Mrs. Lois, wife of Major Elander
**ELDRED, Capt. Robert C., Jenkintown, PA
**FIGUEROA-LONGO, Capt. Juan G., Santurce, PR
**FIGUEROA-LONGO, Mrs. Carmen, wife of Captain Figueroa-Longo
**FOLEY, Sgt. Peter A., South Bend, IN
**GROVES, Mrs. Helga, wife of Specialist Groves
MacDONALD, Cpl., John E., Mexico, ME
**WILSON, Sgt. Ernest L., New Orleans, LA

Deceased passengers (excluding combat troopers): 

ALTIERI, Specialist 4 Anthony, New Haven, Conn.
ALLEN, Sgt. James, East Gadsden, AL
**BANEY, S.Sgt. Melvin H., Pelham, N.H.
BELL, Sgt. Edmond P., Colorado Springs, CO
BROADWATER, Specialist 4 Charles E., El Paso, Texas
**DEVLIN, Capt. John P., Philadelphia, PA
**DEVLIN, Mrs. Naomi, wife of Captain Devlin
**DENT, Mrs. Elizabeth, wife of Lieut. Col. George H. Dent, Fredericksburg, VA
**ELDRED, Mrs. Edna, wife of Capt. Robert C. Eldred, a survivor, Jenkinstown, PA
**MISKIMEN, S. Sgt. Richard M., New Philadelphia, OH
**GROVES, Specialist 4 John, Pittsburg, PA
**HOOPII, Mrs Rachel K, Oahu, Hawaii
**HOOPII, Luana, child of Mrs Hoopii
**HOOPII, Ullani, Child of Mrs. Hoopii

Surviving combat troopers:  

**ACEVEDO-CAMBERO, Pvt. Raul, Los Angeles, CA
**APANEL, Pvt. Edward J. Jr., Palisades Park, NJ
BAKER, Pvt. Mack Jr., Bastrop, LA
**BAZELL, Pvt. Frank D., Van Nuys, CA
**BROWN, Pvt. George V., Oshkosh, WI
**CARUSO, Pvt. Frederick C. Jr., Nanuet, NY
**DAVIDSON, Pvt. Larry E.., Manchester, MD
DAWKINS, Pvt. Bobby D., Cowpens, SC
**GAZELLE, Pvt. Frederick C., Pasadena, CA
**GILBRETH, Pvt. Arthur L., Big Bear Lake, CA
HAWKINS, Pvt. Robert C. Birmingham, AL
HOFER, Pvt. Joe E., Birmingham, AL
KECK, Pvt. Charles P., Gibonville, NC
**KOLTAK, Pvt. Thomas P., Morgantown, WV
McGLOTHREN, Pvt. Willard F., Cottage Hill, FL
MENDEZ, Pvt. Reynolds, Chula Vista, CA
MURRAY, Pvt. Michael A., Youngstown, OH
NEVILLE, Pvt. Larry A., Fort Walton, FL
PIERCE, Pvt. Leroy F., Modesto, CA
+RUFFOLO, Pvt. Frank A., Chicago, IL
SAYERS, Pvt. James M., Princeton, WV
**SMITH, Pvt. Willie Jr., Atlanta, GA
**STEWART, Pvt. Paul R. Ardmore, OK
+THORNSBERRY, Pvt. Gordon E., Russellville, Ark
**TOMINELLO, Pvt. Dominic, Mohnton, PA
**TOOLE, Pvt. John Jr., Montgomery, AL
+TRAWICK, Pvt. Richard M., Birmingham, AL
**VASQUEZ, Pvt. Samuel C., Phoenix, AZ
+WERNER, Pvt. Douglas N., Munci, IN
WIDMER, Pvt. Edwin, Rigewood, Queens, NY

Deceased combat troopers:

BINFORD, Pvt. Harold K., Luverne, MN
BROWN, Pvt. John E. Pittsburg, PA
BUCEK, Pvt. August Jr., Wauwatosa, WI
HANSON, Pvt. Joe W., Fernwood, Idaho
**JOHNSON, Pvt. Carroll M., Tempe, AZ
JOHNSON, Pvt. Don L., Oakland, CA
**LESANE, Pvt. Harold, Philadelphia, PA
MANNING, Pvt. James L., Belleville, IL
McGINTY, Pvt. James T., Atlanta, GA

If anyone knows anything about any of those “unmarked,” please contact this site editor, Fred Caruso, a survivor, and let him know.

Posted in flight crew, new combat troopers, passengers | Tagged , , | 12 Comments