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The Gannet Club: Parachuteless in WW2 December 14, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

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Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is never a good idea. But it is striking that some individuals walk away, or more likely are carried away, with a few token broken bones and a story to dine out on for the rest of their lives. Most modern examples are of parachutists who have had chute problems, particularly while messing around with free fall. But ‘the golden age’ of parachuteless falls was, of course, WW2, when hundreds of thousands of young men took to the skies to fight for their countries and many found themselves (i) without a parachute, (ii) without a serviceable parachute, (ii) out of reach of a parachute, or (ii) otherwise indisposed (e.g. unconscious) when the time came to leap. These men were all ineligible for the caterpillar club (a club for those who have survived thanks to a parachute: another post another day). We nominate them, instead, for membership of the gannet club: named after the rapid diver that plunges vertically from great heights after fish.

We have sixteen names here. All are Allied: one is Soviet, four British and eleven American. There must be Axis instances but so far we’ve not turned any up. Or is it simply the lack of snow in bombed Allied countries that made a difference? Certainly snow saved several lives here, as did bits of plane encasing falling bodies. Trees breaking falls seem also to be important, even though in one case said tree crushed a skull. Finally, the often overlooked variable in survival is speedy medical assistance. A surprising number of individuals survive mile high falls – in survival terms the difference between 500 and 25000 feet is zero – but then lie unconscious and die when the ambulance does not turn up. Looking at this list of gannets two particularly impressive cases stand out of individuals that got through without help of snow and other natural safety belts: Alan Magee who fell thousands of feet onto St Nazaire train station, smashing through the glass roof (a brake?); and Paddy McGarry who survived a fall of over ten thousand feet and who was not found for a week. There are great men among great men and there are exceedingly lucky men among lucky men…

The following list of honour is sketchy given the poor facts available in many cases. We’d love to improve, correct and fill in and add names: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Also on a point of courtesy where obit is uncertain we hope very much that it is so because the bell has not yet tolled. Where a link has not been given we have taken liberally from a fabulous site where any bizarrist will waste a joyful hour or two (be warned): the Free Fall Research Page

1) Alkemade, Nick (obit 1987): Nationality and Job: British Rear Gunner; Flying: Lancaster Bomber; Drop: 18,000 feet jumping without a parachute from burning plane over Germany (24 March 1944); Survival: hit fir tree and then snow, twisted his knee! Link

2) Brophy, Patrick (obit ?): Nationality and Job: Canadian Rear Gunner; Flying: Lancaster Bomber; Drop: several thousand feet over Cambrai France; Survival: trapped in the gun turret PB was broken out on the ground, possibly upon impact with a tree and was afterwards rescued by the French resistance. Not clear if he survived in a fragment of plane or in the plane as a whole. Link

3) Bryant, Olen Cooper (obit ?): Nationality and Job: American navigator; Flying: B-24; Drop: 10,000 feet into the Italian mountains at Chiusaforte from disintegrating plane (February 1944); Survival: fell into deep snow and immediately rescued though with many breaks.

4) Chisov, Ivan (obit ?): Nationality and Job: Soviet; Flying: Ilyushin II-4; Drop: 23,000 feet onto snow after failing to open his parachute, he fell unconscious while dropping (January 1944); Survival: fell down into snowy ravine and broke several bones, immediately rescued

5) Dennison, H (obit ?): Nationality and Job: British; Flying: Halifax Bomber; Drop: Attacking Chemnitz in Germany, no details of height (5 March 1945); Survival: Came down in central part of disintegrated plane.

6) Duval, Gerald (obit ?): Nationality and Job: American Radio Operator and Gunner; Flying: B-17; Drop: ? trapped in plane that came down over Austria (February 1944); Survival: lucky fall of part of plane with John Wells. Link

7) Frechette, Arthur (obit?): Nationality and Job: American Navigator: Flying: B-17; Drop: plane began to spin at 25,000 feet over Castelfranco (Italy) and then AF was blown clear when the plane exploded; Survival: fell on snow and quickly recovered by Germans.

8) George, Ogwyn Francis (obit?): Nationality and Job: British radio operator; Flying: Sunderland Flying Boat; Drop: 3,000 feet over Norway (9 April 1940); Survival: fell through trees into ‘unusually deep snow’ and quickly rescued.

9) Gonzales, Federico (obit 2007): Nationality and Job: American Pilot; Flying: B-17; Drop: 25,000 feet over Germany (23 Jan 1945); Survival: ‘landing in a farmer’s field, still connected to a piece of the plane’. Link

10) Jones, Joe (obit?): Nationality and Job: American Tail Gunner; Flying: B17; Drop: plane shot to pieces 13,500 feet over Belgium (March 1945); Survival: pulled from the tail.

11) Koszyczarek, Erwin (obit ?): Natinoality and Job: American Tail Gunner; Flying: B-17; Dropped: mid air collision over Austria at some 25,000 feet (8 Feb 1945); Survival: apparently brought alive out of the tail ‘unhurt’.

12) Magee, Alan (obit 2003): Nationality and Job: American Ball Turret Gunner; Flying: B-17; Dropped: leapt from plane spin at uncertain height St Nazaire France (3 Jan 1943); Survival: came down on the glass roof of St Nazaire train station with broken bones and damaged face. Link

13) McGarry, Paddy (obit ?): Nationality and Job: British Navigator; Flying: Halifax Bomber; Dropped: Plane destroyed at 13,000 feet over Germany and PM jumped with non-functional parachute (January 1944); Survival: fell into a wood and presumably crashed through branches, two days before he regained consciousness and a week before he was discovered!

14) Moran, Eugene (obit ?): Nationality and Job: American Tail Gunner: Flying: B17; Dropped: At 28,000 feet over Germany the tail was blown off with EM in it (29 November 1943); Survival: he came down in the tail but had his skull crushed when the tail hit a tree moments before coming to earth, a Serbian POW doctor apparently saved EM. Link

15) Shibble, Edmund (obit ?): Nationality and Job: American Ball Turret Gunner; Flying: B17; Dropped: An attack on Koblenz in Germany (23 March 1945?) saw ES’s plane broken in two at 23,000 feet and he plummeted to earth with the front part of the plane; Survival: encased in the gun turret he left the plane with a broken back. Link

16) Stannard, William (obit ?): Nationality and Job: British Tail Gunner; Flying: Ventura; Dropped: WS’s plane was shot to pieces over Holland (May 1943) Survival: the tail ‘glided’ to the ground and WS was pulled from the wreckage.

17) Wells, John (obit ?) see Gerald Duval

without a parachute

26 Dec 2013: CM writes: Famous in Canada (ie, barely at all, it seems) is Andrew Mynarski, VC, who died in 1944 trying to save his fellow aircrew member Pat Brophy from a burning bomber.  Mynarski finally had to jump (and died of burns), but Brophy survived the crash.  Read down a bit to find Brophy, who is the potential Gannet member.