The following are the proceedings of the Accident Classification Committee regarding accident involving B-17G airplane, AAF No. 42-31257, which occurred approximately 67 miles N-NE of Las Vegas Army Airfield on 4 January 1944 at approximately 1020 hours.


First Lieutenant HOLLY W. COLBY, 0-663859, 326th FGTG, appeared before the Accident Classification Committee and gave the following testimony:

Q - Were you the pilot of the above airplane on 4 January 1944, when due to a fire the crew was forced to bail out?
A - Yes, sir, I was the pilot.

Q - Will you describe in your own words just what happened?
A - The Form 1A indicated that the oxygen system was filled at three hundred (300) pounds. We flew a high altitude mission about two hours and the oxygen pressure at the completion of that two hours was two hundred (200) pounds. Then we went out on the camera line at 0950. I don't know the exact time, but I'd estimate it to be half an hour later, or at approximately 1020, everything was normal, the instruments were all normal and we were flying at nine thousand (9000) indicated when suddenly I heard a loud hissing noise from behind. We looked around and there was a large stream of fire coming from under the platform of the top turret. This was coming directly under the center of the platform and it seemed to be directed towards the left side of the airplane. I called for someone to get a fire extinguisher and the engineer claims that they used a fire extinguisher for a few seconds and saw that it was of no use, and I saw within ten (10) seconds that thery couldn't put it out. The cabin was filled with smoke and the heat was getting pretty intense, so I called to the co-pilot to bail out. The co-pilot went down into the nose and called out to bail out. I followed him down and on the way down jettisoned the escape hatch and began putting on my chute. The fellows all bailed out in order. One of the men was frantic. He was crying that he couldn't find his chute and asked several of the fellows for their chutes and when the co-pilot got down and started pulling on his own chute, he grabbed the rip cord and spilled the co-pilot's chute. The co-pilot gathered up the chute in his arms and so went ahead and bailed out. By this time I had my chute on and that fellow was still just sitting there crying, "Give me a chute." I turned around and saw a chute lying right by the escape hatch so I gave him the chute - I shoved it into his arms - and he bailed out right behind me immediately. There were six men who bailed out of the front escape hatch.

Q - In what order?
A - There were three students, one instructor, pilot and co-pilot.

Q - Did the students go out first?
A - Two of the students went our first, then the instructor, co-pilot, pilot and one student. After my chute opened, I looked around to see how many other chutes I could see. I had to swing myself around as I couldn't get my chute turned so that I could face them. I estimated the number to be about eight. I glanced at the plane and it was descending gradually in a turn to the left and smoke was pouring out. I was under the impression that it seemed to be out of the side windows, anyway, it was out of the side. I was looking for a road and couldn't find one due to the fact that I wasn't more than five hundred (500) feet high at the time. I hit the ground and was not injured by the fall. I gathered the chute up in my arms and climbed a hill toward where the plane had fallen. Just as I reached the top of the hill I saw my co-pilot and one gunner approaching. We stopped on top of the hill and began watching for some of the other fellows. I don't remember in what order these fellows came up. We waited on this hill until 1400 and by yelling and sending out fellows who weren't injured on scouting missions, we gathered nine other men, or a total of ten. At about 1400 we decided to proceed toward the field and moved off in a southerly direction. At about 1500 we sighted an L-10 aircraft and waited on top of a small ridge but the L-10 didn't approach us but circled the wreckage several times. By this time the wreckage was about two miles away. We couldn't move fast because one of the gunners had an injured leg, but we continued until about 1730 and picked a sheltered ravine to spend the night in. I sent a man up on the highest point of ground near there to get an idea of the lay of the land and also to see if he could spot some fires. He said when he got back that we could probably follow the ravine we were in but that he didn't see any fires. We built two fires and spent the night without suffering from the cold. No airplanes were spotted during this time until about 0800 the next morning when several B-17's circled our position and we know that we sere spotted by at least two of them. One of the B-17's dropped a helmet, a pair of gloves, cigarettes and matches and a note telling us that help was on the way and to stay where we were. We remained where we were until 1300 when an AT-11 dropped a note attached to a fire extinguisher telling us to proceed down the ravine that we were in and to be on the lookout for an ambulance. We left immediately and had proceeded only a few hundred yards when this AT-11 dropped a box of K rations. After eating we continued down the same ravine until reaching an eighty (80) foot drop off and had to climb the mountain on one side in order to get around it. Before we descended again, I decided that at our present rate of travel we wouldn't find the ambulance before dark. I left the co-pilot who had a sprained ankle, and the gunner whose leg was injured, and three men who were in good condition to help them, and took four other men with me who could travel easier and we continued down the mountain at a much faster rate. About 1800 we met the men who had a supply truck and told us that they had been directed up that canyon by a plane. We decided to get an ambulance so that we could have more aid before going back after the other five men. We had gone only about a mile when we met Captain Duesdig and a Chaplain in a jeep,. After we talked to them for a few minutes, Captain Duesdig decided to go back to the camp and get an ambulance and a stretcher. Before he had gotten started an ambulance came up and four men and a chaplain were sent up the canyon with a stretcher, water and a light. Then we returned to the camp and got the other ambulance, went back to the ravine where we had first met the ordnance men and waited until they had brought the rest of the crew down. It was about 0400 in the morning before they returned with the injured men. We then returned to Las Vegas Gunnery School in an ambulance and a panel truck.

Q - Were you injured in any way?
A - Yes, sir, my ears.

Q - What happened to your ears?
A - They were burned by the fire behind the pilot's and co-pilot's seats.

Q - Did you receive your burns while your were sitting at the seat or while you were moving around?
A - It was both while I was sitting in the seat and while I was moving around to go to the nose of the ship. I was never any closer than I had to be in order to get to the nose. I just dropped right through.

Q - Was there sufficient fire up around the seat to burn your ears , or did your receive those burns as you dropped down through the hold?
A - There was enough heat there although there weren't any flames that far up.

Q - Then there was sufficient heat around the seat to burn your ears?
A - I'd like to call attention to the fact that my ears were burned worse than Lt. Gunn's and the only reason I can see to account for that is that I was there about ten (10) seconds longer than he was. That will give you an idea how intense the heat was.

Q - Did you notice the color of the flames?
A - No, sir. I don't believe I could give a very accurate description of that.

Q- Was there any odor?
A - The smoke had a rather acrid piercing sort of odor.

Q - What color was the smoke?
A - It was blue. It seemed just maybe a light blue.

Q - Was there any visible flame?
A - Yes, sir. When I first heard the hissing noise, I looked around and there was just a stream of fire.

Q - But you didn't know the color of this stream of fire?
A - I can't remember whether it was bluish red or just plain red.

Q- How long was this flame and how large in diameter?
A - The flame appeared to be about two inches across and one and one-one to two feet long.

Q - What was the shape of this flame?
A - The flame was round and spread out something like a stream of water.

Q - How long after you heard the hissing noise did you first notice the fire?
A - Immediately after I heard the hissing noise I turned around.

Q - Did you see the fire as soon as you turned around?
A - Yes, sir, that's when I saw the fire. It was underneath the platform of the upper turret.

Q - From what part of the platform?
A - The platform is round and it seemed to come from right under the center toward the left, the pilot's side of the airplane.

Q - Was it a stream of fire like that coming out of a blow torch?
A - That's right, sir.

Q - Did you observe the oxygen pressure at this time?
A - No sir, I didn't

Q - Did you observe the hydraulic pressure?
A - No, sir.

Q - Did you notice whether the hydraulic pump was operative at this time?
A - No, sir.

Q - How many of your crew were on oxygen on this two- hour mission?
A - There were thirteen (13) and we were all on oxygen.

Q - How long were you on oxygen altogether?
A - About forty five (45) minutes.

Q - Only forty five (45) minutes?
A- Yes, sir. We weren't on oxygen at the time of the accident.

Q - Did you open the windows in the cockpit when it began to fill up with smoke?
A - I didn't. Lt. Gunn opened a window but it seemed not to do a bit of good so be closed it immediately. I leaned as close to the windshield as I could to help me see out, but it didn't help a bit.

Q - Was the smoke so thick that your couldn't see out of the windshield?
A - It was so thick we couldn't even use our instruments.

Q - You didn't try opening the storm widow?
A - That plane didn't have it.

Q - What would you say the total length of time from the point when you first heard the noise until the cockpit got so full of smoke that you couldn't see out?
A- Not more than twenty (20) seconds.

Q - Did the hissing still continue as you left the cockpit?
A - The last time I noticed it as I left the cockpit, it was still hissing. That would be from thirty (30) seconds to a minute after it begun.

Q - Did you engage the AFCE (automatic flight control equipment) before you left the ship?
A - No, sir.

Q - Were the motors still running?
A - Yes, sir.

Q - Regarding this man in the nose who couldn't find his chute, where was his chute?
A - It was just opposite the escape hatch.

Q - Did you put his chute on him?
A - He put it on himself.

Q - How did most of them jump through the escape hatch?
A - At least one of the fellows said that he dived through. I went through feet first.

Q - Did you experience any difficulty getting through that way? Did you hit your head or anything?
A - No, sir. I know it sounds foolish but I went through just as I do on the ramp - I grabbed it and jumped through.

Q - Did the slip stream drag you against the side?
A - I didn't touch a thing.

Q - Did that method of escape seem to put you too close to the propellers?
A - No, sir.

Q - Did you receive a bundle of clothing that was dropped to you the first day?
A - No , sir. We saw this clothing fall but it was so far away that we decided we probably couldn't find it and one of the fellows felt like going after it, and I didn't feel like asking them to. I knew they would need all their strength.

Q- What did you do with your parachutes?
A - I brought my chute with me and I believe one of the men carried his with him. I sent the men after all the chute they could find so we finally got a total of five chutes all together.

Q - Do you know if one of your party left a chute on top of the mesa?
A - I don't know sir.


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