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VMB-611 Squadron Insignia

Marine Bombing Squadron Six-Eleven

 

LOSS OF MB-13 AT TURTLE BAY, ESPIRITU SANTO

During VMB-611's flight echelon island-hopping journey from MCAS Ewa, Hawaii to join MAG 61 on Emirau Island, they had a three-day layover at Luganville, Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.

On October 26, the squadron of planes left Espiritu Santo for Munda Airfield, New Georgia.  They were not out more than 45 minutes when PBJ-1D "MB-13" (BuNo 35152), flown by First Lieutenant Robert P. Clarke, blew a stack on one of its engines, forcing him back to Espiritu Santo.

When Lieutenant Clarke arrived over the bomber airbase at Luganville on one engine, he was refused permission to land.  Instead, he was directed by the Luganville control tower to cross the island to the fighter strip at Turtle Bay, which was temporary vacant.  This was a poor decision by the Luganville control tower personnel to force a PBJ-1 on one engine to land on a short 3,000-foot runway with a 20-foot drop-off at the end.

Approaching Turtle Bay from the ocean, Lieutenant Clarke started his descent, passing from the cool air over water to the hot air over the coral runway.  The hot air suddenly made the plane balloon upward, destroying any chance of touching down soon enough.  It was a desperate moment, for the pilot not only had to apply full throttle on the one engine to regain altitude for a second approach, he also had to go into a sharp turn to avoid a hill on the other side of the drop-off. The PBJ almost stalled.

Coming around again, Lieutenant Clarke this time reduced the altitude of his approach and forced the plane downabout one-third of the way down the runway. That did not leave enough room for the PBJ and Lieutenant Clarke knew it.  He hit the emergency brake.  The wheels locked.  Both tires blew. The plane went off the end of the runway, hit land on the other side, tore off both engines, and stopped in the middle of a river with water flowing into both waist gunports.  All the crewmembers were able to exit the aircraft safely, with the only causality being First Lieutenant Richard S. Bond suffering a broken jaw.  Some time later, all completed their trip to Emirau via a R4D transport plane.

MB-13 Loss at Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay Map

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