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F6F-3 Hellcat

The Bigej 'Hellcat' (found in October 2011)

On February 1, 1944 a strike group from the USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) was tasked with strafing targets on Bigej Island, at Kwajalein Atoll. The planes taking part in the strike were from the Belleau Wood's VF-24, and consisted of four F6F-5 'Hellcat' fighter planes. 

 

The F6F-3 'Hellcat' flown by Ensign John Clem was part of a group strafing ammunition dumps on Bigej Island, Kwajalein Atoll. (Bigej is pronounced "Bee-gee") The ammunition dump blew up as Clem's plane was coming down on it, and he was caught in the explosion.The blast tore away part of his wing and tail, and his plane spun into the lagoon at high speed. Ensign Clem was listed as missing in action following this incident.

 

On October 17, 2011 members of the Kwajalein MIA Project located the first pieces of wreckage of the 'Hellcat', based off of side-scan sonar imaging obtained in 2007. Over the following months, several more pieces of wreckage were found, some of which could be identified, and some that could not be identified due to their condition and coral/marine growth. This site has been reported to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). The GPS coordinates for the various pieces in the debris field are a strictly guarded secret, provided only to DPAA.