Duck Hunt – Lt. Pritchard’s last flight

Lt. Pritchard prepares for takeoff. (Coast Guard photo)

Lt. Pritchard prepares for takeoff. (Coast Guard photo)

In our first post in this series, we gave you an overview of the crash of the Grumman Duck in Greenland during WWII and the efforts to find the missing crew.  The effort to recover the two MIA Coast Guardsmen is exciting all by itself but there were some really heroic and amazing feats surrounding the case too.

In our first post in this series, we gave you an overview of the crash of the Grumman Duck in Greenland during WWII and the efforts to find the missing crew.  The effort to recover the two MIA Coast Guardsmen is exciting all by itself but there were some really heroic and amazing feats surrounding the case too.

The story began with the Northland rescuing an aircrew from a Royal Canadian Air Force A-20 that crash-landed on the ice cap on November 10th.  On November 23rd while flying the Duck, Lieutenant John Pritchard located snowshoe tracks from the A-20 crew and eventually located them.  He then led a land rescue party to the Canadians who made it to the coast.  For this rescue Pritchard was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Meanwhile, previously on Nov. 9, 1942, an Army Air Force B-17 crashed with nine airmen aboard while looking for a downed C-53 that went missing over the ice cap on November 5th.  On November 24th, the CGC Northland was dispatched to rescue the B-17 airmen and took station in Comanche Bay on November 27th, roughly 30 miles from the downed plane.

On November 28th, Pritchard and Petty Officer Benjamin Bottoms set out aboard the Duck to rescue the B-17 crew.  There were too many crevasses near the crash site for the Duck to safely land and they were forced to land about 1 mile away and brave the treacherous ice on foot.  Using a broomstick to test the ice ahead of them Pritchard returned to the Duck with two of the B-17 crew and safely took them back to the ship.

Pritchard and Bottoms returned to the B-17 crash the next day but were forced to leave quickly with only one of the crew because of an incoming storm.  They took off and headed back for Northland but were met with impassable weather.  They radioed out, “M-O, M-O,” requesting magnetic orientation from the ship.  That was the last that was heard of Pritchard, Bottoms, and the rescued airman they carried with them, Corporal Loren Howarth.

Master Chief Long describes Lt. Pritchard's last flight.  Click the image to watch the video on YouTube. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Dan Bender)

Master Chief Long describes Lt. Pritchard's last flight. Click the image to watch the video on YouTube. (U.S. Coast Guard video by Petty Officer 2nd Dan Bender)

A week later an overflight spotted the wreckage of the Duck.  A Northland ground party led by Ensign Richard Fuller was unable to reach the crashed Duck due to the dangerous terrain.

The crew of the B-17 made it through the harsh Greenland winter surviving on supplies air-dropped to them.  Finally in April of 1943, Navy PBY planes was able to land and rescue the remaining crew.

Pritchard and Bottoms were posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their efforts at the rescue.  Army documents from the time showed they were recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor though, obviously, that has not come to fruition yet.

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  • Mark Behe

    Master Chief Long: Thank you for your leadership for this case. I look forward to hearing more about the case and am hopeful for the return of the crew. BZ

  • Shasa Foster

    Master Chief Long- Your enthusiasm shines through in your pursuit of this underreported history. Wishing you the best for the return of the crew and closure for the families.

  • http://DuckHunt-Lt.Pritchard'slastflight CAPT Donald Taub, USCG Retire

    Two comments on this very good writing by Dan Bender. On Nov.28, both LT Pritchard and RM1 Bottoms walked to the B-17 and returned to the Duck with 2 rescued men, and were assisted by the B-17′s copilot, Lt Spencer. The 2 injured men made rest stops along the way and Bottoms stayed with them, while LT Pritchard & Lt Spencer went on ahead to prepare the Duck for its take-off, and Spencer returned to the B-17. Some versions of this story incorrectly said that Pritchard went to the B-17 alone, while Bottoms stayed in the Duck to man the radio. Some versions also incorrectly spoke of a 3rd B-17 man being unable to get into the Duck, and waited there for the Duck to return on Nov.29. An error: ENS Fuller’s USCG search party was unable to reach the crashed Duck because the USAAF search plane had unknowingly reported the Duck’s location at the wrong fjord. The actual location was not known to them until long later.