“If there is a survivor from that crew, the chances are ten to one that it’s Maleckas. I’ll betcha money on that,” commented Frank Maleckas’ copilot after hearing that the plane Maleckas was serving on as substitute navigator had been downed near Choiseul in the South Pacific on October 25, 1943.

Frank Maleckas joined the Army in the spring of 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he was transferred to the Army Air Corps as a navigator on a B-24 bomber in the South Pacific. After the war, he joined an active Air Force Reserve unit. He retired 23 years later in 1968.

In One 11 Millionth of a War, Maleckas recounts his experience as the sole survivor of two planes that “did not return.” Following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 describing his experiences during his second crash, which took place on his first flight back from a ten-day rest period in New Zealand. During their rest, Maleckas’ crew’s treasured ship, the Big Moose, was taken by another crew on a mission from which it would not come back.

The motors screamed like I had never heard them before. The whipping and spinning was extraordinarily violent. It felt as if the airplane had broken apart. Between the bomb bay and navigator’s compartment was a bulkhead with a spring-loaded door that slipped upward when a latch was pressed. During our thrashing around, the latch was somehow struck and the bulkhead door opened. I saw a way to get out. I waited for a tumble that would take me past the door. By seizing the edge of the opening and partially aided by centrifugal force, I flung myself into cold space.

The whole rear half of the plane behind the wing was missing. The wings with all four motors in full power and the nose section with my compartment instantly disappeared into the clouds below.

Extreme silence enveloped me. A short minute ago I was amid a fleet of roaring bombers. Now, I was surrounded by a painful silence, with no sound from the formation and only a frigid wind rushing past my face.

Quickly the realization that I was falling hit me. Below was a thick undercast which made me estimate that I was about 15,000 feet up and that I had already fallen about 10,000 feet. It was bitter cold as I fell without benefit of oxygen. I took deep breaths but little air came in. “If I am going to pass out,” I thought, “I’d better open the chute.”
With great effort, I lifted one arm, which seemed to weigh a hundred pounds, grasped the ring and pulled. I didn’t have the strength to pull it out. Through the clouds I plunged. I began to feel warmer air, and my lungs were filling up with oxygen. Strength returned to my arms. I pulled the ripcord to open my chute. My fall was abruptly slowed by a sharp jerk on my armpits. I realized I hadn’t buckled the chute harness under my legs. If I would relax my arms, I would fall out. I placed the palms of my hands against my head, which kept the straps from slipping past my elbows. Thus I floated down into the warmer air below the overcast. At what I thought was 30 feet above water, I relaxed my arms and fell out of the chute into the ocean. The wind picked up the chute and carried it out of sight.