Flight Journal

The mystery of the missing boot


IN JULY OF 1943, Sutcliffe was on a training mission over the Merritt Parkway in Connecticu­t, when his engine quit. “I couldn’t find a place to set it down. We were taught to dive at the wing and to fall between the wing and the tail. I looked at the wing and decided I would hit my head and get knocked out. I looked back at the tail. I could be out of here before I hit it. I curled up in the cockpit, put my arms on the side and shoved straight up. The vertical stabilizer came under me like a huge knife. Anything dangling would have been gone.”

Sutcliffe was falling head first, and when he pulled the parachute ring, the jolt knocked off his shoe. He drifted over a farm, and a woman hollered at him, “I’ll get you in my car.” Sutcliffe told her he needed to get to the plane because it had live ammunition and wasn’t safe. “She insisted, ‘First, you come to the house and have a cup of tea.’” Sutcliffe had tea, and the lady took him to the crash site. A fire truck arrived just as .50-caliber bullets began cooking off. Fortunatel­y, no one was injured, and the fire was put out.

Years later, Sutcliffe and his wife, Olive, decided to visit the lady who had helped him that day. “She invited us in for a cup of tea,” George recalled. “She said, ‘I want to show you something.’ We went to a local café, and she asked me to look behind the bar. Behind the bottles, there was my shoe! That was the biggest thing that had ever happened in the little town. The owner asked me if I wanted it back. I said, ‘No, it is yours.’ A farmer had found it in his field at harvest time.”

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