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New Guinea Rescue Mission


Wartime photographers went everywhere. In 1943 Merchant reportedly accompanied a rescue mission of a B-24 plane that crashed into a mountain “somewhere in New Guinea.” The ten men aboard the crashed plane were taken in by a nearby native village in exchange for cigarettes. Due to an injury to one of the ten officers, they were forced to stay on the ground until the officer healed enough to be flown out. Using parachutes, the men wrote coded messages to their rescuers flying above, sometimes positioning some of the natives to highlight the finer details of their messages. From the rescue plane, Merchant took several photos of the messages.

An aerial shot of the New Guinea native village that took in the ten Army officers. The parachute floating down contained either a letter or supplies for the officers.
According to an uncredited article, while awaiting the ten Army officers, wrote messages in parachutes that could be seen from the air. The rescue team replied by sending letters down by parachute.
The message seen here, written in parachutes to be seen from the air by the rescue team, requests coffee and cigarettes. The men on the ground had traded most of theirs away in exchange for help from the natives.
To get the attention of the rescue planes, this message displays the Jolly Rogers’ skull-and-crossed-bombs insignia. The eyes of the skull are actually two natives kneeling down on top of the parachute. The rest of the message indicates that the stranded party will be ready to leave for the landing strip at 8 a.m the next morning. The “T” means that the injured officer will be well enough to be ferried out in a plane.
The parachute message here states “no contact” meaning that they would be unable to contact the rescue team for an unspecified amount of time.
Reportedly, the three “X’s” in this parachute message also indicate there would be no contact for awhile.
After landing, the rescue team and stranded officers pose in front of the rescue plane, the Flamingo.


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Last updated 10 April 2013

Robert Merchant online exhibit designed and created by Amanda Lewis, MLIS graduate student-UMCA/UNO.
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