More from Richard Junius Petit
When we last left Richard Petit, he and his crew were trying to decide where they should land. Here is more on their adventure: There was slight chance of finding England beneath the clouds. If we went that direction, we would probably have to land in the ocean–if we escaped the German fighters
Off to the left we could see the tops of the Alps. Should we try for Switzerland?
To me, the plane commander, the best chance was to try for Switzerland. Even then, if we made it, we would probably be unable to find a suitable place to land because of the cloud cover, and that meant bailing out. We had done that once before, so I gave the crew a choice.
I called the crew and said, “If any of you men have appointments tonight, I don’t think we’re going to make it. By the way, should we crash land, or should we jump?”
I got a one hundred percent response: “Crash land!” We had jumped once before. They didn’t want to do it again. So, towards Switzerland we headed.
We didn’t know where the German-Swiss border was. We could see mountains off to our left, above the clouds. I headed for them, thinking that Switzerland was in that general direction. I had an outline map of Europe, but it didn’t show any national borders. I did see a peculiarly shaped lake in the general direction we wanted to go, however. Becaus the enemy fighters didn’t see us leave the formation, we were not attacked.
Suddenly an opening in the clouds appeared and that strange-shaped lake was visible. I had recognized it as being on the border of Germany and Switerland, so I headed for the far side of the lake and, still descending because of the engine problems, looked for a flat place to set down. I hoped that the snow on the ground would cushion our landing somewhat.
As we came down through the opening, a Swiss fighter picked us up and escorted us to a mini-size air field. We weren’ gliding, but we were underpowered. Two engines were not working right. The fighter led us to the field, but we knew we couldn’t make it from that approach angle because of the small size of the field. So we swung right and went between mountains, then came back around and in at a diagonal. It is a mystery that the Swiss fighter did not shoot us down, as the Swiss had others, when we did not follow orders and land at once. We knew we would have to take every foot of that open field to land. The co-pilot still insists that we took off a chimney from a house as we came in too low.
We landed on the snow, fences ahead of us and coming up fast. I cramped one brake and revved the outboard engine. That stops your forward motion. I skidded with the brakes and slid sideways into a ground loop, coming to a stop just a few feet from the fence.