JUNGLE RESCUE - 1945
January 26, 1945 saw the helicopter used for a jungle rescue in Burma.
A YR-4 had been disassembled and rushed to the Far East in response to a rescue plea. By the time the helicopter was ready the original survivors had been evacuated.
The Army Air Force personnel who had been brought to Burma from Wright Field, Ohio for the one rescue mission decided to assemble their machine in case another opportunity presented itself. The test pilots, now rescue pilots, were 1st. Lt. Irwin Steiner and Capt. Frank Peterson.
The opportunity came January 24th. A weatherman had accidentally shot himself in the hand at a remote weather station 160 miles northwest of Myitkyina, Burma. There was no possibility of the man walking out or of parachuting a medic into the camp. The helicopter looked like the best possibility.
Since the helicopter pilots were unfamiliar with the terrain and the helicopter itself had no radio, it was decided to escort it with L-5 light observation planes.
At 0800 on January 25th the helicopter party received their final briefing. The plan was for the L-5s to lead the helicopter to Sinkaling Hkamti, a strip on the bank of the Chindwin River approximately 120 miles northwest of Myitkyina. At Sinkaling, all aircraft were to refuel and proceed to the mountain that lay between two areas of unsurveyed territory about 60 miles northwest. All aircraft took off between 0900 and 0915.
The helicopter flew at tree-top level and was extremely difficult to see against the jungle background. The average speed of the rotorcraft was about 60 miles per hour while that of the L-5s was 30-40 mph faster. Consequently, the L-5 pilots were forced to circle continuously to keep the helicopter in sight.
Flying problems increased as the terrain grew more rugged.
The helicopter lost the escorting aircraft four times, but in each case Capt. Peterson and Lt. Steiner, who were alternating as pilots, were able to show their location by "hitting" the L-5 with the flash of a mirror.
The helicopter had considerable difficulty getting over one 5000-foot mountain, but was able to surmount it on the third attempt. After topping this mountain, the field a Sinkaling was in sight.
After refueling and having a lunch of K-rations at Sinkaling, Capt. Peterson took off for the mountain weather station.
The place where he landed was in the midst of a circle of high peaks and was located on a razorback mountain. It had a rough strip 250 feet long and bordered on narrow valleys 2500 feet deep. By the time the R-4 was safely on the strip it was low on fuel and the air was very turbulent. Capt. Peterson decided to stay the night. The L-5s returned to Sinkaling.
The next morning the two L-5s took off, flew to the mountain and circled it for an hour while they dropped fuel and messages to the helicopter pilot. There was obviously some difficulty since Capt. Peterson did not take off at once. Finally he spelled out "OIL" with some white cloth and the faithful liason aircraft flew to Sinkaling and bought back some of the lubricant, which was dropped to the ground party.
Capt. Peterson took off and flew his injured passenger back to Sinkaling without difficulty. The wounded man was transferred to an L-5 and evacuated to Myitkyina.
Peterson and Steiner made repairs on the R-4 and flew back to the home base the next day and subsequently began to instruct the local jungle rescue unit in the operation and maintenance of the helicopter. It was used to locate aircraft that had been forced down in the area and evacuate personnel until the end of the war.