On Aug. 1, 1943, during World War II, a B-17 Flying Fortress crashed into Cape Lookout, killing nine of the 10 crewman aboard, leaving as sole survivor the bombardier, Wilbur Perez (inset, left).
According to Tim King (tinyurl.com/wperez1), the pilot of the plane, lost in the fog, was only flying 50 to 100 feet off the water at the time. Once he realized 900-foot high Cape Lookout was dead ahead, he tried to climb. The B-17 was still climbing when it slammed into the top of the cape at 200 mph. Perez speculated they only needed 50 more feet to clear it. A documentary about the crash can be seen at tinyurl.com/wperezdoc
Perez was blown out of the bombardier bubble and wound up hanging upside down from a tree branch by a shoelace. Although severely injured, he freed himself, rolled toward the sound of the surf — and off the edge of the cliff. Remarkably, he landed on a propeller from the B-17 that had wedged itself in the side of the cape a few feet from the top, and strapped himself to it.
Hanging there, he could still hear his remaining fellow crew members calling out as they gradually died from their injuries. It took 36 hours to find and rescue him, Geri Humpal of Seaside says, because there were no trails or roads up to the crash site, and the rescue team had to wait for the tide to change to get rescue equipment up there.
Perez was taken to Fort Stevens, the nearest military hospital (pictured), where his surgeon was Geri’s father, Dr. Donald H. Kast (inset, right). Despite being badly wounded, Geri said, Perez wanted to put off necessary surgery until he could deliver his Norden Bombsight (inset, left) personally into the hands of someone from his base at Pendleton. How he managed to get it out of the wreckage, and hold onto it, is a mystery.
Dr. Kast finally convinced the bombardier to give up the bombsight by stowing it in the hospital safe until someone could come and retrieve it. The surgery was successful, and Perez went on to live a long life, dying at 90 in 2009.