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Yapese Visitors Bureau Saves F6F-5 Hellcat Wreckage

Ens. Cox Hellcat Wreck
Patrick Ranfranz and Mark Noah stand next to the Ens. Cox F6F-5 Hellcat wreckage. The approaching Yapese dump can be seen behind the wreckage.

October 2005:

When we first visited Yap Island in October 2005 we were told about the wreckage of an American plane in the jungle near the Yapese dump. With the help of our guides from the Manta Ray Hotel and Tilus Alphonso a local land owner we searched through what was then dense jungle to find the plane. The wreckage turned out to be an F6F-5 Hellcat that was flown by Ens. Joseph Cox from the VF-20 squadron off the USS Enterprise. Ens. Cox was involved in a mid-air collision with another plane flown by Ens. Howard Holding on September 6, 1944. Both planes crashed near Colonia Yap and the pilots were listed as MIA.
    VF-20 Report about the loss: Mid-air collision during crossover from right to left just as 3 plane division started strafing run. Both planes spiraled in. No parachutes observed. Cox & Holding were also attacking Yap Town at the same time & were just getting ready to push over at the same point as Brown, when they either both got hit by the same AA burst or due to AA one crashed into the other. They were both seen spinning in at the same time, and I would imagine somewhere in the vicinity of Yap Town.More Information >

September 2006:

When we returned to the site in September 2006 we had information from Tim Schubert from Albany, OR that he had located the wreckage back in the late 1980's. He sent in a copy of the BUAERO tag and received information from the Department of the Army that the planes was a VF-20 F6F-5 Hellcat off the USS Enterprise lost over Yap on September 6, 1944. The aircraft was flown by Ensign Joseph E. Cox. Ensign Cox's remains were recovered and he was buried in a private cemetery in Idaho.

October 2008:

When we returned in October 2008 we were absolutely shocked to find the jungle around the dump has been cut down and the Ens. Cox Hellcat wreckage was sitting only a few feet away from a wall of garbage. The plane was going to be buried by garbage within a matter of weeks. We explained the history of the wreckage to the Don Evans with the Yapese Visitors Bureau. We asked that they do something to save the plane and not cover it over within the expanded dump. We received a call the next day that the wreckage was going to be removed and relocated to some government land about ½ from the entrance to the dump.

Moving the Plane:

We changed our sonar search plan from my uncle's plane the following day to watch the Yapese move the plane. We were very nervous that the wreckage was going to be destroyed during the move. The plane had crashed landed in the located over 65 years ago killing Ens. Cox. To us it was a memorial site, however, the fact that the dump was going to cover the wreckage warranted the move by the Yapese. We watched nervously as the engine mounts were cut and the engine was picked up and separated from the rest of the wreckage as it was lifted up the hill to awaiting truck. Chains were attached the rest of the wreckage and the fuselage and wings were gently lifted up from its resting spot and carried up the hill to the same truck. The wreckage was then transported a short distance and placed in a grassy areas in front of the Yap Public Works building.

A memorial to Ens. Joseph Cox, the VF-20 squadron and the USS Enterprise will be created at this location to educated the Yapese and visitors about the American losses over Yap Island during the war. I'm glad that the Yapese saved the plane but it is just one of many wreck sites that are in danger of being lost forever. For example, we found that another plane on Yap we were seeking had been bulldozed over when the Yapese decided to make a public game area. The wreckage had no meaning to them therefore, it was covered over and buried forever. I'm very pleased that the Ens. Cox wreckage will serve as a memorial moving forward.

Please feel free to submit comments about the airstrip to Pat at: pat@missingaircrew.com

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