The Lost Hurricane Hunters 1: October 1st, 1945


The first hurricane/typhoon hunter plane loss occurred 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.

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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.
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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.