Three of us coming up into position from behind saw two parachutes open and drift down towards the shoreline. But the trapped crewmen went down with the flaming planes. The burning debris of both planes crashed into the Salton Sea.
On the ground, Ox was suffering from burns about the face and wrists, but he was saved from more serious injury by his helmet, flight gear, goggles and gloves. He immediately did what he could with a makeshift tourniquet to stem the flow of blood for O’Rourke until medical help arrived.
In the end, O’Rourke’s left leg had to be amputated at the hip. He was transferred out of the squadron.
After a lengthy hospital stay, Ox returned to the squadron with lasting scars on his face—and in his heart. The remorse ran deep
At Corpus and at Jacksonville, we had been taught how to use navigational plotting boards, which were located immediately below the instrument panel in a TBF. We continued this training at El Centro, where we flew 150-mile geographic sectors out over the desert and mountains east of the Imperial Valley.
Our night navigational flights, however, were something else. While new navigational aids were rapidly coming into service, the technology in l943, including our radar, was still relatively unsophisticated and subject to failure or damage. At El Centro, we concentrated our night flying practice on riding radio beams as backup.
A radio pulse sounding in our earphones told us where we were relative to a radio transmitter location on the ground or on a ship—the fixed navigation point. Flying off-course to the right or left of the beam brought forth variations in the tone—”dah-dit” for right and “dit-dah” for left. Heading away from the transmitter, the signal weakened. Flying nearer to the transmitter brought an increasingly stronger signal. It was a simple but effective method for finding a way back to the base on a dark night over the desert.
For a safe landing, however, there was no way to judge altitude by means of the radio signal. That required precision work with the altimeter, needle-ball gauge and the airspeed indicator. Sometimes at night that became a bit hairy.