By PETER MARTEKA, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
7:41 p.m. EDT, May 26, 2013
As Lt. Eugene Casale aimed the nose of the Douglas A-26 Invader toward England on an October evening in 1944, the cockpit area felt a little cold. So Casale flipped a switch activating a gas heater in the state-of-the-art twin-engine light bomber he was transporting to the European theater.
Shortly after switching on the heat, a fire broke out in the cockpit near the plane’s navigator, Lt. John Kurek Jr. Casale was faced with a difficult choice. A crash landing or parachuting into the ocean would likely mean death if no one rescued them. With the shoreline of northwest Spain visible in the distance, Casale decided to try to land before the flames reached the plane’s half-full gas tank.
Casale — 23 at the time — was a member of the Air Force’s transportation unit, which brought new planes from the Midwest to England for use in the war and returned with older planes. Flying brand-new planes right off the assembly line over non-combat areas, Casale said, the trips were usually smooth and uneventful.
But not this time.
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