One Kingfisher Saves Ten MenOn April 30, 1944, two Kingfishers were sent out to locate a Navy pilot from the carrier USS Enterprise who was reported down at sea. The two Kingfishers, piloted by Lt. J.J. Doble and Lt. John Burns, soon spotted the downed pilot, Lt. Robert Kanze, afloat in his life raft. Doble then landed to pick Kanze up. As Kanze grabbed the wing float, he was lifted out of his raft. A wave then hit the float broadside which, with his weight on the float, submerged it and caused the Kingfisher to capsize, throwing Doble and his radioman R. E. Hill into the water. The three were able to retrieve the raft and hold onto it. Burns observed all of this and decided to land and pick up all three. With five men aboard, the Kingfisher could not take off, so Burns taxied to the submarine USS Tang that was on the surface nearby. The sub then sank Doble’s still-floating Kingfisher by gunfire to prevent its drifting into Japanese hands.
After his three passengers were safely aboard the USS Tang, Burns got a call to go after another downed pilot, who was soon found and taken aboard. Again unable to take off, Burns decided to wait for the USS Tang to reach the scene. While he was waiting, he saw two TBM torpedo planes, each with three men aboard, ditch nearby. With nothing else to do while waiting for the sub, Burns decided to go after the TBM crews that had taken to their rafts. He secured both rafts to the Kingfisher and tried to tow them in the direction of the now far-distant sub, but their drag was too much. He then took the six men aboard, distributing them along the wings to balance the weight, and started taxiing. The sub, which had gone after still another pilot, finally reached the now-sinking Kingfisher and took all nine occupants aboard.
Since there was no way in which the sub could salvage the heroic little plane that had just rescued 10 men, it, like Doble’s, was sunk by gunfire to keep it out of Japanese hands.
The following rescue, however, is perhaps the most bizarre of all, and it occurred on the last day of the war. On August 9, 1945, Lt. Vernon T. Coumbre ditched his damaged F4U Corsair five miles off the Japanese coast after a carrier strike against the Ominato Naval Air Base. He took to his raft, which was quickly blown to shore in what was fortunately a deserted area. He avoided Japanese searchers during the night, and heard the sounds of U.S. planes that were looking for him the next morning. Fighters kept the Japanese at a distance while two Kingfishers tried to effect a rescue. One Kingfisher, flown solo by Lt. Ralph Jacobs, landed to pick Coumbre up. Seeing that Coumbre couldn’t make it through the surf to the plane, Jacobs tried to throw him a line. A heavy wave rocked the plane, and Jacobs, with one foot still in the cockpit and one on the wing, was thrown into the water. As his foot left the cockpit, it hit the throttle and the plane began taxiing away.
The other Kingfisher, piloted by Lt. Almon P. Oliver, was circling overhead and saw all this, the runaway plane and the two swimming pilots. Oliver then landed and picked both up, putting them in the rear cockpit. He then flew back to his ship, the USS North Carolina, the same ship from which Lt. Burns had flown. Jacobs’ Kingfisher also was sunk by the fighters to keep it out of Japanese hands as a windup to one of the strangest and most spectacular rescues of the war.