Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome Home Mr. Speicher, Still Looking For #41-38253!

Navy Captain Michael Scott Speicher is home. Shot down during combat, Captain Speicher's remains have been identified. He was among the first wave of the Desert Storm Air War, shot down on January 17, 1991. You can find the article here:

It is good that we never give up the search. So many never came home. Which brings me to the P-39 that disappeared on December 9, 1942 and has never been found.

On Decemeber 9, 1942, 2nd Lieutenant Lewis M. Russel taxied his P-39D, #41-38253, out to the main runway and gunned his engine. He took off into the low overcast for a local training mission. At 1000 feet he would have entered the overcast. He had two (2) hours of fuel. He was a member of the 77th Fighter Squadron of the 20th fighter group, assigned to Paine Field, Washington. He never checked back in.


Patrols and search parties were sent out over the next few weeks. As of the 28th of December, the weather had restricted the search. On December 30, the search was abandoned.

No one has reported finding his aircraft or his remains. The P-39D had a maximum speed of 360 MPH at 15000 feet. The accident report states that he had 2 hours of fuel. One wonders whether this was two hours at full throttle (Doubtful) or at some other specified regime of fuel management. Since it seems unlikely the pilot held it at full speed, one must search closer than 720 miles from Paine Field. The range on the 145 gallon internal fuel was 1100 miles at 196 MPH. One suspects the "Two hour" supply is not the best measurement of fuel on board. Still, 2 hours at 196MPH is just under 400 miles.

Neither 720, nor 400 miles seems likely. Paine Field is just North of Seattle and lies just a few feet above sea level. On one side is the Puget Sound, on the other is a range of mountains called the Cascades. Peaks of 5000 feet lie within 20 miles. With the overcast sitting at 1000 feet, the most likely course of events seems to be 2nd LT. Russel took off for a local flight and when he broke into the overcast lost his way. It seems completely possible that he lost his bearings and perhaps was so disoriented his aircraft fell out of the sky in a stall. If he came down in the Sound...well, we will have to wait for Mr. Robert Ballard to look for him with his mini-subs. On the other hand, given its wintery loss, it could remain in the hills and mountains near Paine Field.
Where is P-39D #41-38253? We may never know, but we can hope 2nd LT. Russel one day finds his way home.

February 6, 2010:  I recently got an e-mail that indicates that this aircraft has indeed been located.  One assumes Lt. Russel eventually found his way home.  It appears it was located as early as 1957.  

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