A two-plane ferry flight for Nadzab took off from Biak on September 11, 1944. Pilot 1/Lt. John L. Fabale flew the second plane, B-25D THE WOLF PACK, which carried three other crew members and six passengers. Approximately an hour into the flight, the crew discovered that a problem with the flaps was keeping THE WOLF PACK from catching up to the lead plane. Attempts to contact the plane were futile, as the radio wasn’t working correctly either.
The flight continued, but soon afterwards a series of unnerving whines, roars and groans began to emit from both engines. They soon subsided, but started up again a short time later. Suddenly, the left engine stopped altogether with grey smoke coming out of the exhaust while the right engine sputtered. Fabale feathered the left engine and prepared the B-25 for a single-engine flight. Instead, the plane tilted earthward. Fabale told everyone on board to prepare for a crash landing, and then set the plane down in a clearing.
Fortunately, everyone was okay. Thinking a fire might start, the crew and passengers quickly piled out, but the wreckage seemed to be stable, so the men went back for supplies. They grabbed all the survival gear from THE WOLF PACK, laid out parachutes and other bright gear in hopes of being spotted by Allied aircraft, and spent an uncomfortable, mosquito-filled night next to the plane. The next day, they made some unsuccessful attempts to get the attention of pilots flying nearby, but the only outcome was another miserable night’s rest.
When daylight arrived, the men agreed to walk towards the Ramu River, some 50 miles away. First, though, three of the men went to look for water. They found a creek and, while they were washing up, a group of natives appeared. The Americans first had to convince the natives they weren’t Japanese, but after some shouting and arm-waving, they were able to lead the natives back to the other crash survivors.
In spite of the language barrier between the Americans and natives, an agreement was made to guide the crew back to other white men in exchange for a reward that included THE WOLF PACK itself. Final preparations to leave the crash site were made. These included arranging two parachutes: one pointing in the direction they were heading, the other as a backdrop for spelling out “ALL O.K.” with ammunition belts as a message for any aircraft flying overhead. The canoes were loaded up with supplies and everyone went back to the natives’ village.
That evening, the men dined with the villagers, then turned in. They spent the night on palm fronds, under a parachute being used as a tent that provided no protection from the mosquitoes. Between the mosquitoes, rain, and the danger of crocodiles nearby, the crew didn’t sleep much that night. The following morning, the crew began their four-day journey to the Australian outpost of Annenberg. Among other things, clothes and razor blades were used to barter for food and guidance as the Americans were passed from village to village.
After being ferried across the Ramu River, the group was a stone’s throw away from Annenberg, where Australians, who had been on the lookout for them since the 13th, were waiting. An L-5 had been searching for another downed crew when it saw the message on THE WOLF PACK’s wing. The Americans recounted their tale and spent the night with the Australians before being taken to Dumpu the next day, then on to Nadzab before rejoining their squadron.