This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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What was the Green Hornet plane? What was Louis Zamperini’s experience like on the Green Hornet?
In 1943, Louis Zamperini was part of the crew on the Green Hornet plane when it crashed into the ocean. Louis survived the Green Hornet plane crash, and later became in American POW in Japan. All of the crew members of the Green Hornet plane were officially declared dead—including Louis.
Green Hornet Plane and Louis’s Crew
After the Super Man plane was damaged in an attack, Louis and the remaining Super Man crew were transferred to the eastern side of Oahu and paired with six new men. Everyone was apprehensive, for new crewmembers usually meant mistakes. There was one man named Francis “Mac” McNamara, who had a significant sweet tooth. Other than that, Louis found nothing notable about the others.
The new crew was given the infamous B-24 bomber known as the Green Hornet, a haggard plane with a treacherous history. The Green Hornet plane was known as a “musher,” meaning the tail tended to drag lower than the nose. It was a heavy plane previously only used for errands and had been pilfered of parts for other planes. Louis once rode in the Green Hornet for a brief moment and decided he never wanted to again.
On May 26, a nine-man crew took off in another B-24, piloted by Clarence Corpening. The next morning, Louis woke early to run. He asked a sergeant to pace him in a jeep and discovered he’d run a mile in 4:12 in the sand. He was in prime performance condition. After returning to his barracks, Louis learned that Corpening’s plane never reached its destination.
Phil and Louis were told to take the Green Hornet on a rescue mission to find Corpening’s plane. Another pilot, Joe Deasy, would join them in the Daisy Mae. Louis left a note telling his fellow servicemen to drink his liquor if he didn’t come back, then headed out. The Green Hornet’s crew was ready to fly.
The Green Hornet and Daisy Mae took off side by side, but because of the Green Hornet’s propensity for mushing, Louis’s plan fell behind. Phil told the Daisy Mae crew to go ahead and soon lost sight of the companion plane.
During the search, Cuppernell asked to switch places with Phil, a common request during non-combat flights so copilots could gain experience. Shortly after Cuppernell took over, a crewman noticed one engine burning more fuel than those on the opposite side of the plane. Then, the engine stopped, and the uneven distribution of power caused the Green Hornet plane to dip to one side and sink.
On the control panel, each engine has a “feathering” button. The new engineer rushed into the cockpit, flipped open the plastic cover, and slammed down on one button. Unfortunately, he killed the working engine on the same side as the dead one. With maximum power on one side and no power on the other, the plane began to roll through the air. Phil tried to get the good engine started again, but there was no time. He told the crew, “Prepare to crash.”
Louis jumped into action and commanded everyone to get into crash positions, then pulled out the life rafts. Mac clutched the supply box. In the cockpit, Phil watched the ocean rising faster and faster toward them. As Louis watched the twirling sky out the window, his final thought before impact was that none of them would survive.
The ocean surrounding Louis was littered with hunks of the Green Hornet. Somewhere nearby, he heard a whisper and turned to see Phil and Mac, without the supply box, clinging to part of the plane. A little ways away sat the lifeboats. Louis reached one raft, then paddled hard with the oar to reach the other. Louis bandaged up Phil’s head, then slid him into one raft. The last thing Phil did before he passed out was turn over command to Louis.
On the island of Palmyra, the Daisy Mae landed as the afternoon sun waned. Their search for Corpening’s plane had been unsuccessful. By early morning, the Green Hornet plane was also declared missing. Between the two planes, twenty-one men were unaccounted for.
Daisy Mae pilot Joe Deasy estimated that the Green Hornet had likely gone down in a swath of ocean eight hundred miles long. However, because the currents in that part of the ocean converged from the east and west, it was difficult to predict which way the survivors would drift. Air Force planes, along with two Navy air crafts, commenced their search for Louis and his crew.
Because there was no information about what had happened to the men after their interrogation, neither family was told of the discovery. Phil’s family remained as steadfast in their belief that Phil was still alive as Louis’s. Phil’s fiancé, Cecy, even quit her job in Indiana and moved to Washington DC to be closer to information. After thirteen months, Louis, Phil, and the rest of the Green Hornet crew were officially declared dead. This news changed nothing for either family.
The Green Hornet plane was treacherous from the beginning, and different than Louis’s first plane, the Super Man. Though Louis survived the Green Hornet plane crash, his ordeal was far from over. Eventually, he made it home; his family never lost hope.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Unbroken summary :
- How Louie Zamperini was on track to become an Olympic athlete until the war started
- The unbelievable story of his capture as a prisoner of war
- The ultimate fate of Louie and his captors