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Interesting P-40 recovery story from Landings.com

Posted by B Darnell on Wed Apr 14, 2004 01:07:59 PM

Never heard about his one before.

Anyone who has attended the EAA Sun 'N Fun Fly-In in Florida over the past eight years has probably seen the battered fuselage of a Curtiss P-40N that is displayed there.
The fuselage, minus tail, sits on a trailer that enables its owner to haul it to various airshows and veterans gatherings around the Southeast. It's a fixture at Sun 'N Fun but the plane does not belong to the EAA.

It's owner is 65-year-old Hal Thompson of Arcadia, Fla. When he's not towing it to shows, Thompson keeps the Warhawk fuselage in a shed he calls the Thompson Museum.

"I've loved these planes since I was a little kid," he said, referring to the USAAF fighters he grew up with during WW II. In fact, his passion was so intense that he went through hell to acquire the P-40.

He first heard the story of the P-40 that crashed in the muddy headwaters of the Suwannee River in northwest Florida during WW II in 1995.

"I met a man who lived near where it crashed," he said. "He told me where it was and I went and got it, simple as that."

Well, not exactly, Thompson explained. Hauling a motorboat and trailer, he and three buddies drove from Arcadia halfway across the state to a boat ramp at the mouth of the Suwannee.

They motored six miles up river to the crash site and began digging by hand in the swampy mud flats for wreckage. It took four trips over two years to find, excavate and recover the bits and pieces that were left.

Back in Arcadia, Thompson assembled them into a semblance of a fuselage, minus the engine, wings and tail. He built a structure to house the P-40 and other WW II memorabilia, including photos and a mannequin dressed in a USAAF pilot's uniform.

Fifty-Nine Years Ago

The story of Thompson's P-40 dates back to a tragic mishap that occurred on March 24th, 1945. On that date, a flight of four P-40s took off from Perry Army Air Field about 45 miles southeast of Tallahassee.

They flew a routine formation training flight over the Gulf of Mexico, then headed back to base. As they approached the shoreline at the mouth of the river, they were at treetop level, Thompson said.

About six miles inland, the flight pulled up to gain altitude to approach Perry Field. That's when two of the planes collided.

"Flight Officer Jenske's P-40 clipped the elevator of the plane in front of him," said Thompson. "Jenske bailed out of his plane and broke his ankle on landing, F/O Earl Goodyear crashed and was killed."

According to Thompson, Jenske's plane crashed in a spot where the Army and civilian souvenir hunters were able to retrieve most of the wreckage. Goodyear's P-40 crashed in the swamp and only his body was recovered.

The plane, with ammunition still in the wing guns, lay buried in the swamp for more than 50 years, until Thompson tracked it down and recovered it.

The Thompson Museum is located at 7115 SE Airfield Ave., Arcadia, FL 34266.

Landings P-40

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