EMERGENCY JUMP IN BRAZIL
By Paull W. Saffold Jr.
While stationed at Smyrna Air Force Base in Tennessee an order was received to fly engineering equipment from Brookley Air Force Base, Alabama, to Belem, Para, Brazil. The crew of our C-82 consisted of 1st Lt. Jonathan Clark, co-pilot, T/Sgt Frank Soujak, Flight Engineer, and S/Sgt Wilson, Radio Operator. We departed February 28, 1947 and the flight was uneventful to Mobile, Tampa, Puerto Rica, Trinidad, and Georgetown, British Guaina.
We joined another aircraft from our organization at Georgetown which was on the same mission. Since the other crew had a navigator, we elected to follow the other aircraft in formation to our final destination, Belem, Brazil. We departed Georgetown on March 1 at 2:30 PM estimating Belem at 8:30. Darkness fell about 7:00 PM but we continued in formation until about 8 PM when we encountered heavy thunderstorm activity which was not in the forecast we received at Georgetown. We managed to rejoin formation after flying through three heavy cumulus buildups that we could not top.
The navigator was taking celestial positions and keeping us informed. At about 8:15 PM we flew through a thunderstorm and lost visual contact with the lead aircraft. We still had radio contact on VHF with the lead crew which informed us that we were very near our destination and they were starting to let down from 8,000 feet. We spotted a hole in the clouds and spiraled down to 1,000 feet which was approximately the base of the clouds. We could not determine our position by visual reference because of poor visibility in rain and darkness. We were unable to pickup the low frequency navigational aids because of severe static caused by thunderstorm activity. We still had radio contact with the other aircraft on VHF. They were lost also and said they were going back up to get another fix on the stars. A few minutes later they called to say they had located Belem and they would circle the airport and give us a steady transmission on 4495 KC so we could home in on them. We were unable to do so due to interference and we lost all radio contact shortly there after.
We picked up an easterly heading in an attempt to find the coastline and the mouth of the river Para were we planned to ditch the aircraft. About 10 PM we spotted a village in which electric lights and a radio tower were visible. We circled low several times hoping to find a landing strip and trying to locate the village on the maps. Fuel was nearly exhausted by that time and the fuel level warning light came on indicating about 15 minutes of fuel remaining.
We decided our best chance was to abandon the aircraft over the village in view of the fact we were over treacherous jungle country.
The bailout was well planned and because the village was so small we decided to jump from a low altitude of 1200 feet to prevent drifting away into the jungle. T/Sgt. Sojak suggested we fasten our baggage to the extra parachute and make a static line with a piece of cargo tie down rope. (He had made an emergency jump before). This was done and the baggage of all four crew members was successfully recovered.
The copilot, Lt. Clark, and I stayed in the pilotís compartment and made the first run over the village at which time T/Sgt. Sojak and Sgt. Wilson bailed out. While making a turn for the second run we decided that Lt. Clark would go down in the cargo compartment and wait at the jump door so that the aircraft could be trimmed as close as possible for level flight. Lt. Clark was to wait at the jump door and I was to come down when over the village and we were to jump at the same time. I trimmed the aircraft as well as I could thinking I had allowed just enough time to go down and get to the jump door, the aircraft being lined up to fly directly over the village, I left the controls and went down the ladder and back to the jump door. When I looked out the aircraft had started to turn and it looked as if we would miss the village. I slapped Lt. Clark on the shoulder to tell him that I was going back up to make another run and he thought I meant for him to jump and he did.
When I got back in the pilots compartment my vision had been affected by the lights in the cargo compartment and I had to go on instruments which indicated the aircraft was in a diving turn to the right and we were at an altitude of 700 feet. I had trouble getting into the pilots seat for awhile because my parachute harness was hung up on the arm rest so I reached over the seat from the side, got control, and later managed to get into the seat. I then made another run and bailed out over the village.
I received a broken ankle upon landing on the edge of the village. My chute partially collapsed over a very tall trunk of a tree.
I could tell the direction to the village by the sound of noise. I made my way to the village in spite of the broken ankle, only to find the village was enclosed by a high fence. I found a hole in the fence large enough to get through and saw men gathered in front of a hut. When I approached them, in my very wet flying suit and wearing a bright yellow May West life jacket, they shied away from me. I offered them a couple of packs of cigarettes and they accepted, then one came out of the hut with a bottle of something like beer for me and I accepted.
One of the men whose name was Alfonso could speak some English. He led a search party to find the rest of the crew. S/Sgt. Sojak landed on the top of a hut and received no injuries. The people inside ran out to see a white parachute on the top of their hut and took off running. Sgt. Wilson was found later and he received a broken ankle. Lt. Clark was the last to be found. He landed in a large tree and was uninjured until he fell from the tree. It was so dark that he couldn't see the ground below so he decided to wait until daylight to come down but soon he was being bitten by large antlike creatures and decided to come down. He freed himself from his parachute and made his way to the trunk of the tree. He started sliding down until the tree got too large and he fell to the ground breaking several ribs. He was the last member of the crew to be found.
We were given a warm and friendly reception by the natives of Braganca 120 miles east of our destination. The next morning a small plane of the Brazilian Air Force landed on the emergency strip near the village to take us to Belem.
Upon arriving at the Belem airport we were met by ambulances and taken to a Brazilian Air Force hospital were we remained for six days and received excellent treatment.
We returned to our home base at Smyrna, Tennessee on the lead aircraft, flown by my friend Captain Terence Flanigan, that remained in Belem until we were released from the hospital.
Our baggage was found by the natives of Braganca and returned to us at the hospital.
The aircraft was destroyed when it struck the ground and exploded several miles from the village.
ANECDOTE: Jean, with two young babies, Paull and Bobby, was in the process of moving to a new house when this happened. She was notified by the base chaplain that my plane had gone down in Brazil and there was no word of survivors. She was notified the next day that we all survived.