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Found Film Recounts B-29 Rescue 66 Years Ago

December 16, 2010 — New color footage of a B-29 crash and sea rescue of 12 airmen during World War II is gaining widespread attention on the Internet since first airing as part of a TV news story last month. Richard Vanden Heuvel, of Denver, Colorado, and tailgunner with the 39th Bomb Group, Crew 18, was on that plane and told KUSA NBC Channel 9 in Denver that the film found its way to his door two years ago after being found stored away in a closet for more than 65 years.

Vanden Heuvel, now 85, explained he had volunteered for the bombing mission aboard the B-29 City of Galveston, not his plane. It’s certainly a mission he will never forget.

“Our Crew 18's aircraft was in for repair and the regular tail gunner for Crew 13 was ill, so I volunteered for that fatal mission,” he said. “When you’re a 20-year-old kid, you’re not afraid of anything.  But when you get older you realize we were very lucky to survive.”

The aircraft had sustained heavy damage on a mission over Japan. Running with only one engine, the pilot had communicated with the submarine USSPintado that they were going to crash as another B-29 led the crippled craft to where the sub was and they all jumped out. Shortly after the Superfort crash-landed into the sea.

“When I ’chuted out was 71 miles off the coast of Japan,” Vanden Heuvel told EAA. “An officer on board the sub - I never did get his name - filmed the whole thing. I got a Mae West on (life jacket), got in a 1-man dinghy and the sub pulled up and picked me up. The video shows me holding my rip chord.”

The officer who shot the film stored it away and 65 years later came across it. The found footage shows parachuting airmen, the airplane plunging into the ocean and exploding, plus the rescue of the airmen.

About two years ago the co-pilot contacted Vanden Heuval and asked if he’d like to have a copy of the film, and Vanden Heuval said sure. Not long thereafter, “A tape showed up in the mail,” he said. This past year after showing the tape to some of his fellow residents, one of them got a copy and pitched the story to the local NBC affiliate, which used it as the center of its Veterans Day tribute this past year.

Vanden Heuval provided EAA with a copy of the full video.

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