Surviving WWII Pilot Nearly Died in Freefall

A WWII pilot from Lancaster named Barry Douetil found his bomber aflame and was forced to jump when he found all too late that his parachute was nowhere to be found. That was when he saw the light—a German searchlight, that is, which illuminated the parachute just ten feet away. He managed to reach the pack just before it was too late, saving his life at the very last second. The WWII pilot was then captured, where he was brought to the same prison at which the Great Escape would take place a month and a half later.

Douetil and his story were never highly publicized, despite the incredible nature of his last-minute survival at 20,000 feet. Of all sources to first reveal his story to the public, nobody likely would have expected Antiques Roadshow, yet that is indeed the source of the WWII pilot’s story. Douetil’s son is the one to reveal the story after presenting the show with a picture of his father.

The pilot did write down his story, which is another document his son presents to the show. His account reveals the horrors of being aboard a burning plane. The fire was noisy, the impact was sharp, and instinct was the only thing Douetil had to save him. Douetil was given a parachute pack, but he did not have time to fully strap it on before the plane rolled over and he began his descent. After finding the pack, he was able to reach ground with little more than a dislocated shoulder, a mild injury for WWII, the Mail Online reports.

According to Douetil’s son, speaking for his father, he only pulled open his parachute mere seconds before reaching ground. Prior to finding the pack, he was in the air for what felt like five minutes while contemplating his potential (seemingly imminent) death. Luckily, fear did not keep the WWII pilot from being alert enough to find his pack while in the searchlight, or else he would have died swiftly.

The WWII pilot survived a crash which killed five of his crew, and his son suspects survivor guilt as the culprit for his silence regarding the issue. Douetil lived into his 70s and did not share his experience outside of his family until his son pressured him to write it down. His son is excited to finally reveal the story to a larger audience on Antiques Roadshow, revealing his WWII pilot father as the fortunate soldier that he truly was.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE