John Lavra Collection
C/O Fleet Post Office
18 November 1952
SURVIVAL REPORT #2 INTERROGATED: 30 October 1952
INTERROGATION OF: AD PILOT LTJG JOHN LAVRA OF VA-55
NARRATIVE OF: HELICOPTER RESCUED SURVIVOR FROM BEHIND ENEMY LINES.
BRIEFING AND TAKEOFF:
He was wearing the following gear,
Crash-helmet (f) Flight gloves
He was carrying the following gear:
(a) Survival Belt, (Army cartridge belt), containing the following:
(1) 2 bars Pemican
(c) “Cardex” containing pictures of family, about $10.00 MPC currency and Geneva Conventions ID card
(d) Blood Chit
(e) Pointie talkie
(f) Cloth map
(g) .38 revolver with 80 rounds ammo including 20 tracer
(h) Standard first aid kit
(i) Sheath knife on belt
(j) 2 dye markers, compass, whistle, flashlight, 2 flares, on Life Vest.
(l) Two handkerchiefs
(m) Two extra pair wool socks
(n) Mosquito net
(o) Barter kit
(p) St. Christopher medal-small Prayer book
(q) Piece of Chamois
We came in at a fairly high altitude, about 12,000 feet, glide bombing. My section leader went over in his dive and I went with him almost in the wing position, slightly behind and quite a ways wide of him. We got down, released our bombs about 5,000 feet above the level of the ground and started a pull-up. Just after we pulled up I felt a terrific wrenching movement and sound; I had felt it once before when an engine came off on me at K-18 last year.
The next thing I knew there was a flame all over. I grabbed the stick with both hands and tried to keep the airplane flying; I tried to keep my slightly nose high altitude to gain as much altitude as possible. I’d say I gained maybe 1,500 feet, and then I went into a very sharp left spine. There was a terrific fire in the cockpit. The other pilots were all hollering to bail out. As soon as she whipped into a left spin I realized I wouldn’t be able to do anything with it so I started to prepare to bail out. I loosened my seat strap. I remember looking for the canopy release handle. It was all enveloped in flames. I clenched my fist, reached thru the flames and felt around until I found it. I almost landed right on it because I knew just about where it was anyway. I pulled it back-the canopy came open with no strain. The fire increased quite a bit then and the heat was something terrific. I tried not to breathe any flames if I could help it.
On my first attempt out I felt as if I was hung up or that the plane had slapped me back in the cockpit because I fell back in a sitting position. I started to look down to see if anything was holding me and about that time I lost my oxygen mask. The straps had burned off, I think. I saw a big bail of flame. It reminded me a lot of an oil fire where you see a big ball of flame rise up. It came right for my face, so I sort of turned and shut my eyes—when I opened my eyes again I noticed my goggles were gone and so was most everything else. It seemed to me the plane had eased off. It was in sort of a gradual spin. I tried to get out again. This time I didn’t have much trouble. I reached over with my left hand, grabbed the step on the starboard side of the airplane and pulled myself up on that side which was then on top. I stepped out and dove off. I went out the right side because most of the flames were on the left side.
I wanted to make a delayed jump but I was afraid to delay too long because I didn’t know how much altitude I’d lost. I reached for the D ring and couldn’t find it. Then I remembered you have to look for it so I definitely looked down there for it. I couldn’t see it or any part of my harness. I got “kinda shook”. I really got panicky then.
I took my left hand and started around behind me, reaching for the D ring. I finally found it almost in the small of my back. I don’t know how it got back there but I tried to pull it out with my left hand. It wouldn’t come out so I took both hands and shifted the harness around to where I could get at it. In the meantime all kinds of crazy thoughts ran through my head about what a hell of a way to die-after getting out of the airplane. I grabbed the D ring and pulled it, (I’d bailed out once before at El Centro and received a heavy jolt. I was waiting for it this time, but it never came). The chute opened very easily, and right then I hit the ground. I had just started to reach for the risers when I hit.
I landed fairly easy, went immediately to my knees, on the side of a hill and unbuckled my leg straps and chest strap. I let the chute fall off my back. The first thing I went for was the radio which was suppose to be in my seat pack, but everything was gone except the seat cushion. (Dropped out during the bailout, I imagine). The next thing I figured I better do was get my smoke signals, if they were still there. I took off my life jacket and noticed that everything was gone but the two smoke signals, which I took out. My helmet was still on, but everything was burned off of it, the straps rubber around the side edges, part of my inner liner and all the paint. The only thing left was the leather strap under my chin, which felt like it was burned right to my chin. I took my sheath knife and cut it off.
Then I noticed the planes coming down to take a look at me. I got up and waved at them. I heard an awful lot of shooting n the way down even before the chute opened and when the cute opened it was still going on. The planes coming in to look at me picked up a tremendous amount of fire. I was getting kind of worried because my sections leader was coming in with his flaps down, pretty slow. I saw tracers go straight thru the airplane. I had no way of telling him to get out. I tried to wave him out. I noticed that the shots were very close to me. I had landed on the side of a little hill. There was a very small valley, (you could probably throw a stone across to the other hill).
I noticed a lot of rifle fire coming from there. I thought they’d open up on me as soon as they saw me, so I started crawling up the hill on my hands and knees. Later I dropped down to my stomach and crawled up the hill. I didn’t hear any fire from directly above so I figured it was the best place to go. I could also watch the other side of the hill from there. I’d crawl a little way and stop and listen to see if anyone was approaching through the dry leaves and twigs.
On the way up the hill I ran across two propaganda leaflets. I wanted to take them with me and bring them back but I didn’t know if there were for us or against us and I didn’t want to get caught with them if they were for the wrong side, so I left them there. I continued crawling up the hill with a smoke flare in each hand using my elbows and feet to push me up. I crawled up on my stomach till I got on top of the hill. All this time the planes were strafing around me and coming down and looking for troops that were trying to get to me.
My plane had hit over the hill on the other side of a large wide valley to the east. There were several houses down there and I could see smoke when I got to the top of the hill. I wasn’t sure whether it was from my airplane or from some of our bombs. While I lay there I tried to pick out enemy positions. I saw several shadows move in the brush. I lay on my stomach at first just listening. Then I remembered I was probably suffering from shock and I should try to do something to relieve myself. I knew my hands were hurting awful bad and I was burned under the arms and they were hurting and so was my neck. My face didn’t bother me; I felt and found out there was a hard crust all over it. I then flipped over on my back. I didn’t want to lay with my head low, as I was afraid of getting dirt in my face. I put my head up against a little tree. I noticed that the high range of mountains to the east was the one just in from the coast and I figured that if I had to leave that night I’d go east from where I was and start to the northeast along the ridge all the way to the east and then cross the valley. I figured by the next morning I could probably be in that bigger range of mountains to the east.
While waiting for the helicopter I began to feel a little woozy. I was afraid to pass out for fear they wouldn’t be able to find me. I broke an ammonia ampule in my gloves to it would saturate the gloves and I took a whiff of that every once in a while. It made the pain worse, but it woke me up. I figured I’d see the helicopter coming if I kept watching for the planes circling over the helo. That’s exactly what happened. I saw them coming from the northeast. When I was sure the helo could sight me and was coming in my general direction, (it was a few miles away), I broke out the first signal flare. I figured that when the smoke went out the commies would know where I was and spot me right there. I thought the best thing to do would be to break it, wait till the smoke started out to make sure it was working then throw it north from me about 15 or 20 feet in the brush. There was some rifle fire attracted by the smoke. It spattered around in the brush there. I felt pretty good about that. I thought I had really used my head.
The helo saw it but the smoke didn’t last too long. They made a swing westward to come in from the west because the wind was from the southeast. They approached me from almost due west. The first time they didn’t have the sling all the way down. To make sure they saw me, I stood up against a tree, took the other smoke flare, yanked the top off of it and as soon as the smoke started coming I stuck it in the dirt because the helo wasn’t quite on me yet. As soon as the helo got on me I pulled it out of the dirt, waved it around a little bit, and threw it in about the same direction I threw the other one. I knew the helo had seen me because the boys had waved to me. They made one 360* turn to get the sling down.
In the meantime, the flares had started a fire jus to the north of me in the dry leaves. The wind, blowing it away from me, kept me out of sight of the enemy with all the smoke and fire that was between us. The copter lowered the sling to me and came practically to a stop. I threw the sling over my head, put my arms thru it, gave my thumbs up and immediately felt a jolt as they lifted me up with the helo. I was dangling from the sling when we left. I felt rather helpless hanging out there but I was glad to be in the sling. I knew if they hit me I wouldn’t fall out. I seemed like forever and a day to get dragged up the helo. I had a little trouble getting on he step because the forward motion held be back against the side of the helo, but once I got my foot on the step I had not trouble getting in.
The crewman gave me a good healthy pull into the helo, sat me down and was very concerned about my condition. He pulled out his first aid kit right away and wanted to know if he could put anything on my face. I told him it was numb and didn’t need any but my hands hurt. He cut the gloves off my hands. I figured on leaving my gloves on if they didn’t pick me up because they were the only protection I had left on my hands. I’d gone thru my first aid kit while I was lying on the ground and picked out several ointments to use on my burns if I didn’t get picked up. I planned to wrap my face with my handkerchiefs and them pull a sock over that with holes cut for my eyes, nose and mouth.
1. It helped a lot for the other pilots to shout, “Bail out”, as it kept pounding in my ears, and kept me aware of my danger. If I had been groggy, or dazed it would have probably saved my life. I recommend that in a similar situation, the crashing pilot’s teammates keep hollering to him to get out.
2. Always wear your oxygen mask. The little snaps should be replaced if worn. Don’t forget to disconnect it before you bail out. It saved by face from serious burns.
3. It might be well to wear some kind of protective clothing around your neck. I received my worst burns in this area even though my collar was buttoned high with extra snaps.
4. I didn’t have my flight jacket on, and regretted it. I don’t believe I would have burned under the arms if I had had it on. Wear it.
1. This pilot (a graduate of the SAC survival school at Camp Carson, Colorado) had a definite evasion plan ready in case he was not picked up by helo. Despite his severe burns, and great pain, he did not stop planning and his will to get out remained undiminished.
2. He showed clear thinking in his actions after landing. Getting to the top of the hill, throwing the flare away from him in the direction the wind was blowing, saving the second flare until the helo was right near him- - - these contributed to the saving of his life.
3. He was well equipped for such an emergency, with adequate E and E gear, clothing, and first aid equipment. His training paid off in that he realized the danger of going into shock, took effective actions to prevent it despite the fact that it increased his pain. His crude first aid efforts- - - ointment for his face, leaving his gloves on, preparing to cover his face with a sock- - - again showed clear thinking, and would have materially helped him in evading if that had become necessary.
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Revised: November 08, 2004