For several years visitors to our Attu web pages have seen the remains of a WWII P-38, somewhat integrated with the tundra, and missing much of its paint. Its tail was partially submerged in the runoff from a nearby stream. It had several bullet holes in the stabilizers and fuselage, giving one pause to wonder what had happened on that fateful day during WWII when this particular aircraft crashed into Attu's thick tundra (Click HERE to see the P-38 pictures taken on Attu sometime during the Summer of 1996).
Many of us have also wondered each time we see these pictures just exactly what had happened to the pilot of this P-38, and what had been the circumstances of the crash that turned this beautiful aircraft into a pile of junk metal.
We now have the answers thanks to Bob Leavitt and Jonathan Hake of the 11th Air Force located at Elmendorf AFB, AK (now integrated with Ft. Richardson, and known as Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, JBER). Here's the story and the pictures. This is one Aleutian's war story that has a happy ending!
It was in January of 1945. Then 2nd Lt. Robert L. Nesmith took off from Attu's Alexai Point Army Airfield as the third man in a four-ship formation of P-38s. He was flying P-38 tail number 13400. They were flying a low-level across Attu when Lt. Nesmith got a little too close to the ground. From his cockpit he could see the grains of the accumulated snow on the ground. He quickly reacted to gain altitude. However, in doing so, he overcorrected. He mushed the aircraft into the snow. Still airborne as a result of the P-38's forward inertia, he looked over and seen that the starboard engine was now missing as a result of his initial collision with the ground. He thought he'd have to fly back to Alexai Point field with only the port engine remaining. That's when he realized that its propeller was missing as well! At this point the Lightning's airspeed was approximately 300 mph.
He glided a little further, over a rise, slowed down, and made a very smooth landing...skidding to a stop. Uninjured, Nesmith then bolted from the disabled craft. "I got out and I ran" he said, thinking perhaps the aircraft would explode, and made his way to Attu's shoreline and a waiting rescue boat.
"It wasn't my best flying day," Nesmith said. "I'm not too proud of that. They asked me if I wanted to be grounded and I said no. I flew the next day."
Nesmith went right back to flying and continued a distinguished career lasting until his retirement from the active reserve in 1960.
A team of volunteers worked over a period of two years to restore this P-38. Click HERE for more information on the project. While the recovery of this P-38 occurred in June of 1999, restoration had begun at Elmendorf beginning in December of 1998. This restored P-38 is now on display near Heritage Park, Elmendorf AFB, AK..
Here's the pictures. What a fantastic job these folks have accomplished. Click on each thumbnail to view full-size photo. Click your browser's BACK button to return here.
Last updated: 17 Oct 2015 07:11