Shot down over Korea

For an Australian pilot forced down over enemy territory in Korea, fate offered three alternatives. The fortunate were rescued. Others were killed in the combat or subsequent crash and some survived to become prisoners of war...

Cecil Sly

On 20 March 1951 Sergeant Cec Sly's aircraft caught fire over North Korea. His cockpit full of smoke, Sly baled out, landing in the midst of Chinese troops who shot at him. Sly's wingman called for a rescue helicopter and air support to keep the enemy at bay. Fifty minutes later the helicopter, a Sikorsky H 5 from the United States (US) 3rd Air Rescue Squadron, arrived but aborted the mission after coming under intense fire. For more than hour Sly hid as Mustangs dropped napalm on the Chinese positions. Then a second helicopter arrived and Sly managed to clamber aboard. Taken to Suwon hospital to recover, Sly was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal and the US Air Medal for his courage.

Esmond New

Reverend Esmond New, a RAAF chaplain who had been a Presbyterian missionary in Korea and Sergeant Tom Henderson, a veteran of WWII search and rescue operations, risked their lives in dangerous areas of North Korea to locate two missing Australian airmen.

Squadron Leader Graham Strout, one of the first United Nations pilots to be lost in Korea, was shot down near Samchok. Several weeks later another 77 Squadron pilot, William Harrop also went missing. Escorted by Korean commandos, New and Henderson travelled to where Strout was last seen, a contested area peopled, according to New by 'the biggest crowd of cut-throats I have seen'. Finding Strout was dead and shown a plaque to 'the memory of a brave United Nations airman', the two Australians exhumed his remains and returned to Pusan before beginning the search for Harrop.

After a gruesome but fruitless search through hundreds of photos of those recently killed near where Harrop crashed, New and Henderson were directed to a fresh grave. Dental records confirmed that they had found Harrop. Working under small arms fire they exhumed his body, wrapped it in a groundsheet and made a hasty withdrawal.

Vance Drummond

Wing Commander Vance Drummond, a New Zealander, enlisted in the RAAF in 1949 and was posted to 77 Squadron. One of three pilots shot down by Russian MiGs on 1 December 1951, Drummond survived to become a prisoner of war. Months passed before his family learned of his fate. They heard conflicting stories from the authorities and the absence of definite news must have led to awful moments of despair.

Held at Pinchon-ni, Drummond and four other POWs tried to escape. With stolen food, compasses and water bottles they donned North Korean outfits and fled the camp. Soon recaptured, Drummond and the others were beaten and returned to Pinchon-ni.

After his release, Drummond continued his flying career. In Vietnam he flew as a forward air controller. Having survived the hazards of captivity and combat, Drummond died when the Mirage he was flying crashed off the New South Wales coast in 1967.


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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Shot down over Korea, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 24 July 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/korean-war-1950-1953/events/war-begins-invasion-south-korea/shot-down-over-korea
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