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The 6 lost Hurricane Hunter missions, Part I: the Oct 1, 1945 typhoon

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 3:43 PM GMT on June 25, 2009

Dr. Masters is on vacation this week, so we're posting some blogs he wrote before hitting the road.

People have been flying into hurricanes and typhoons ever since 1943, when Colonel Joe Duckworth took a single engine AT-6 trainer aircraft into the "Surprise" hurricane off the coast of Texas. Hurricane hunting became safer with the introduction of sturdier 4-engine planes, but flying through the eyewall of any hurricane remains a dangerous occupation to this day--one that has claimed the lives of 53 crewmen of the six Hurricane Hunter flights that never made it back. Five of these flights were into Pacific typhoons, between the years 1945 and 1974. One Atlantic flight was lost, the 1955 Snowcloud Five mission into Category 4 Hurricane Janet. I will be running a six-part feature this hurricane season to honor the Hurricane Hunters that gave their lives in service to those us in the path of these great and deadly storms.

The first Typhoon Hunter plane was lost on October 1, 1945, when a Navy PB4Y-2 (BuNo 59415) went down in a Category 1 typhoon over the South China Sea. Pilot Lt(jg) Ralph Cook and Crew #34 of Patrol Bombing Squadron VPB119 took off from Clark Field in the Philippines at 0950 on October 1, 1945, to track and make half hourly in-flight reports on a typhoon at 22N 119E, between Taiwan and the Philippine Islands. Lt. Cook's fourth in-flight report was received by Base Radar at 1230, and gave his position as 20-06°N 120-08°E, altitude 9500 ft, heavy rain, visibility 50-200 yards, wind south at 40 knots, and slight turbulence. He was never heard from again. The entire area was searched thoroughly by a total of forty flights over a period of seven days. The wreckage of the airplane was finally found on Batan Island just north of Luzon in the Philippines (approximately 20-22°N 121-56°E). According to the Veteran's Administration grave locator data base, the crew remains are interred in a common grave at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, KY. Of the six typhoon/hurricane hunter flights that never returned, this is the only one where the wreckage of the airplane was found. I speculate that since the aircraft was flying at relatively high altitude (9500 feet), they were not hurled into the ocean by a sudden downdraft. Instead, the airplane must have experienced a severe mechanical failure inside the typhoon. They were then forced to attempt an emergency landing on rugged Batan Island, which was being lashed by heavy rain and 40 - 60 mph winds at the time. The crewmen lost on the mission were:

Lt(jg) Ralph F. Cook A-V(N) USNR (Pilot)
Ens Harold E. Raveche A-V(N) USNR
Lt(jg) Oscar L. Smith A-V(N) USNR
AMM2c Kenneth D. Griffore USNR
ARM2c Darly B. Miler USNR
AOM1c James A Dugan USNR
ARM1c Royce A. Lamb USNR

Sources: "The Hurricane Hunters", a 1955 book by Ivan Tannehill; http://www.vpnavy.com/vp119_mishap_1940.html; personal communication, Dave Deatherage, son of Paul Deatherage, ART 1c, VPB119, 1944-45.

Figure 1. Six of the seven crew members of the first aircraft ever lost in a tropical cyclone, the October 1, 1945 loss of Navy PB4Y-2 (BuNo 59415). The photo of Ltjg Ralph Cook and Crew #34 of Patrol Bombing Squadron VPB119 was taken by Lt. Sylvester S. 'Bud' Aichele in late August or September of 1945. Cook and crew were a replacement crew that arrived at Clark Field on 22 August 1945. Left to right (standing: L.P. Hill, James A Dugan, Harold E. Raveche, Ralph F. Cook, C. F. Poland, Darly B. Miler, A. J. Kalton. Bottom row: N. P. Chamberlain, Royce A. Lamb, F. B. Arden, T. V. Wisely, Kenneth D. Griffore.

Figure 2. A PB4Y-2 aircraft in flight. These 4-engine patrol bombers were a modified version of the WWII B-24 bomber. They served as typhoon hunter aircraft from 1945 until the mid-1950s. Image credit: Max Crow, USS Whitehurst Association.

Jeff Masters

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