About a thousand miles south of Hawaii in 1945, Marine Pilot Pruitt was faced with landing gear that wouldn’t extend for landing. Pruitt flew a PBJ, the Marine Corps version of the B-25. After a couple of hours, still unable to engage the landing gear, he gave his Navy surgeon, co-pilot and three crew members an option: parachute or go down with the plane.
Apparently the crew had great faith in Pruitt’s piloting skills and chose to risk the rough landing. “We were totally out of gas so there was little chance of fire or explosion, and there was nothing mechanically wrong with the plane. We decided we’d all go down together. For a pilot, it’s sort of like driving a car; I knewI could do it.” And he did.
“We made a normal approach and managed a safe landing. Except that the Palmyra Island runways were made of coral, which was brutal on the plane.” He adds, “To be very honest, I made a very good landing. And the entire island of Palmyra was excited. I had a great audience and we were treated like heroes for our stay.” It was the last time he ever landed a B-25.Pruitt, a robust, 89-year-old docent at Lyon Air Museum, resides in Irvine with his wife, and is one of the two surviving members of the B-25 crew.