Bill, an attendees at the Truckee Airshow in 2016 visited our B25-PBJ and sent in the following account of his friend , Captain John Baeta, who was about to celebrate his 96th birthday had had a close call in a B25. A video of the event was taken by an officer at the base where John was flying combat missions during WWII and was given to John by that officer at a squadron reunion years later. We’re fortunate to present the video and the story here.
“Captain John Baeta served as a B-25 pilot with the 499th Squadron of the 345th Bomb Group (The Air Apaches) at San Marcelino, The Philippines. On April 4, 1945, Captain Baeta, flying a B-25-J, had taken a replacement pilot on an orientation flight, which included practice bombing a shipwreck in the San Marcelino harbor. Upon returning to the base, a mechanical malfunction prevented the nose gear from locking down. After several passes by the control tower and trying suggestions from a representative from North American Aviation, the plane’s manufacturer, Captain Baeta decided to make a wheels up landing rather than have everyone on the flight parachute from the airplane. After circling the base for two hours to burn off fuel, Captain Baeta elected to land on a dirt strip beside the runway rather than the steel mat runway which could have caused a fire. The landing was successful, but the aircraft suffered significant damage and was cannibalized for spare parts. ”
“The wheels up landing was not Captain Baeta’s first close call. On March 11, 1945, he was leading a flight of three B-25’s on a bombing and strafing mission along the Indochina coastline. Flying at 150 feet after completing a strafing pass, Captain Baeta noticed the oil pressure on the right engine was falling steadily. Soon a fire began in the engine and after extinguishing it with CO2 from the emergency extinguisher, Captain Baeta climbed to a higher altitude before feathering the engine. Unable to return to San Marcelino, he headed toward a designated air rescue pick-up point, a barren sand and coral reef about a hundred miles away. Upon reaching the area, Captain Baeta landed the aircraft in the water just off the reef, and all six crew members were able to wade ashore. The two other B-25’s on the mission had followed the crippled aircraft to the area and dropped life rafts and other supplies to the crew. After several hours on the reef, they saw a Martin PBM Mariner overhead. The Mariner had been searching for a different aircraft lost earlier that day. They were about to abandon their search and return to base when they heard about a B-25 landing at the designated rescue point. Upon seeing the crew’s signal flares, they landed the flying boat nearby and Captain Baeta and his men paddled out to the aircraft. After spending the night aboard a seaplane tender, a PT boat took them to an airbase on shore where a B-25 had flown in to return them to their base at San Marcelino.
Captain Baeta is currently 96 years old and resides in Sacramento California.”
Thanks Bill, for the video and the story.
It is our mission to ensure that the sacrifices made by countless of our service members do not go forgotten, and you have helped us bring one to light.