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1941 Japanese Plane Crash on Niihau

In 1941, Japanese fighter pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed on the Hawaiian island of Niihau while he was trying to fly back to his aircraft carrier after the December 7th Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Here are two books about that little-known incident in Hawaiian and World War II history.

22-year-old Airman 1st Class Shigenori Nishikaichi flew escort for a flight of bombers from the Shokaku Japanese Aircraft Carrier during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor,

The fighters strafed the U.S. Naval Air Station on the Mokapu Peninsula and then hit Bellows Army Airfield, 10 miles to the south. In both attacks, bombing followed the strafing. The fighters then made another pass to hit additional targets of opportunity.

Nishikaichi and seven other fighter pilots from the Hiryu Aircraft Carrier had attacked targets in southeastern Oahu. (see above)

Nishikaichi's fighter plane was hit but at first the damage seemed only superficial. Later he notice he was consuming fuel at an increased rate and that made him realize one of the hits had punctured his fuel tank. His engine began running rough and he fell behind the others pilots.

During the morning's briefing on the Hiryu Aircraft Carrier, the pilots had been told if they sustained crippling damage they should try to make an emergency landing on Niihau (Hawaii's westernmost island) and wait on the coast for a Japanese navy submarine to arrive and rescue them. the Japanese assumed Niihau was an uninhabited island.

Nichikaichi's Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter was in serious trouble by mid-morning so he decided to try to reach Niihau, which was about 130 miles to the west of where he was experiencing trouble. He and another damaged zero headed to the island. They flew over Kauai Island on their way to Niihau. As they were circling Niihau island they realized for the first time that the island was not uninhabited, but in fact had a resident community.

Nichikaichi decided to land on Niihau anyway, his fuel tank was almost empty, but other Japanese pilot flying with him dove straight into the sea, it is assumed voluntarily. Nichikaichi eased his plane down using a shallow approach and braced for a hard landing. After clipping a fence, Nishikaichi and his Zero came to rest in a farmer’s field. After the landing, the pilot attempted to to burn the remains of his fighter.

Native Hawaiian Howard Kaleohano observed the Japanese plane's arrival. Kaleohano was born and educated on the Big Island of Hawaii. He received permission from island owner Aylmer Robinson to visit his sister on Niihau in 1930. He remained on the island and married one of its few residents who was fluent in the English language.and married, one of the few on the island fluent in English)

Kaleohano rushed to the crashed Zero, hauled the groggy pilot out of the wreckage, took away his sidearm, and took away what looked like official papers. Speaking in school-boy English, Nishikaichi asked Kaleohano if he was Japanese. "I am Hawaiian" Kaleohano told him. He then took the pilot into his house, where his wife served the visitor breakfast.

Japanese-born Ishimatsu Shintani, a 60-year-old beekeeper, was summoned to help. When he arrived, the beekeeper was not at all happy about being asked to translate for the Japanese pilot.

Next summoned to the scene were the Haradas, a couple who spoke both Japanese and English. Yoshio Harada, 38, had been born to Japanese parents on Kauai in 1903. His birth in Hawaii made him an American citizen, but he had three brothers in Japan, and his wife, Irene, had been born to Japanese parents.

Speaking Japanese, Japanese pilot Nishikaichi told the Haradas of the Japanese attacks on Oahu Island. He also demanded that his pistol and documents be returned. Because the Haradas knew the Niihauans regarded them as more Japanese than Hawaiian, they kept the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor to themselves. That was the beginning of a sell-out that would cost them–as well as the nation–dearly.


Wikipedia "Niihau Incident" Article
Includes background information, details about the crash landing, the conclusion of the incident, post incident repercussions, and legacy.

Timeline Dot Com "Niihau Incident" Article

PBS History Detectives "Niihau Incident" Article

History Dot Net "Niihau Incident" Article

Turncoats on Niihau Island
This excerpt from Michelle Malkin's book "In Defense of Internment" includes many details about the 1941 "Niihau Incident".

Three Part Article at J-Aircraft Dot Com
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3

Books About the 1941 "Niihau Incident"

The Niihau Incident
AUTHOR: Allan Beekman
PUBLISHER: Heritage Press of the Pacific
DATE PUBLISHED: June 1982 (sixth edition was published in 1995)

East Wind, Rain: A Novel
AUTHOR: Caroline Paul
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
DATE PUBLISHED: April 25, 2006
DESCRIPTION: Fictionalized version of the Niihau Incident story.

Before and Beyond the Niihau Zero
AUTHOR: Syd Jones
PUBLISHER: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform;
DATE PUBLISHED: July 14, 2014

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