The story of a pilot who found his parachute in mid-air after having to bail on his plane is being told for the first time ever.
Squadron Leader Barry Douetil had to jump from his burning Lancaster bomber from 20,000 feet in the air, only to realize that he no longer had his parachute. However thanks to a German search light, he was able to see it for just long enough to realize it was still hanging on by a thread, literally.
While still free falling towards the earth in the dark of night, the 21-year-old pilot was able to reel in the chute and get it securely enough attached to pull the cord with enough time to make a landing and survive the horrifying fall that happened in 1944.
His landing wasn’t the softest possible, however he managed to escape with only a dislocated shoulder, only to be picked up by a German patrol sometime later. From there he was taken to the infamous Stalag Luft III camp just a few weeks before the attempted “Great Escape” by just about 100 Allied POWs.
The death defying event took place on February 19, 1944 while Doeutil was on his 14th bombing mission to Leipzig in the eastern part of Germany. He was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190 nightfighter while in route to his target.
In his own written accord Douetil detailed the chain of events that led up to his amazing tale of survival.
“Cannon shells hit the starboard wing setting it alight. I could feel the impact of the hits through my hands on the control column.
“I could also hear the noise of the flames above the noise of the engines.
“Sgt John Gill, flight engineer, undid the seat belt and attached a chest type parachute onto my harness.
“A short while later the aircraft rolled onto its back and I fell onto the cockpit canopy, together with the flight engineer, which seemed to give way.
“I found myself falling rapidly in the darkness at about 20,000ft.
“It was cold and breathless, but I could still hear the noise of the bomber stream. Judging by some revolving lights, I must have been in a tumble.
“On reaching for the parachute ring, I discovered my pack had disappeared – no parachute! I assumed it had been torn off.
“Somewhile later, against some light from searchlights, I saw the oblong shape of the parachute, unopened and still attached to the harness.
“As soon as I saw this, I pulled it up/down/sideways and towards me then found the D ring and pulled, the parachute opened!
“I landed heavily in a frozen ploughed field, on the outskirts of Hannover, with a dislocated left shoulder.”
Douetil’s bomber crashed after he bailed, killing five of his crewmembers. One other was able to escape, but was later killed after a friendly fighter plane made a gun run at a group of POWs they mistook for marching German soldiers.
He went on to have three children and died when he was in his 70’s.