Bristol Beaufort Mk.I DX118 crashed on Brownhart Law in the Cheviot Hills on the 23rd February 1943


Bristol Beaufort at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon

William Byrd Lee Milton 1st Officer Pilot Killed

The aircraft was collected from No.44 Maintenance Unit at RAF Edzell with the intention of it being delivered, along with four other Beauforts, to No.5 OTU at RAF Long Kesh in Northern Ireland. 1st Officer Milton had flown another Beaufort to No.44 MU from RAF Kirkbride on the morning of the accident. Due to the weather along the route to Northern Ireland most of the pilots had decided to fly to Kirkbride in Cumbria, which was the home station for No.16 FPP, and then onwards to Long Kesh. The route is not specifically given in the accident report, however as Acklington is referred to it would seem that they flew south along the East coast before turning west. The other pilots reported that there was extensive cloud between Selkirk and the Solway Firth with the coast towards Acklington being largely clear. Local weather reports stated that the cloud base was approximately 3,000ft with it be a little lower around the Cheviot Hills, to the west and north the cloud was much lower with Charterhall and Eskdalemuir reporting the cloud base being below 1,000ft and one pilot who was heading for Kirkbride turned back to the east and followed the Tyne to the east coast where he then returned to Edzell.

The crash site of Bristol Beaufort Mk.I DX118 on Brownhart Law, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland
The crash site of Beaufort Mk.I DX118 on Brownhart Law, most of the remains of the aircraft are gathered into a shallow depression below a corroded piece of armour plate.

It is not known what route 1st Officer Milton was following after he left Edzell at 12:18, the investigation into the crash revealed that he was known to follow seeming random routes on previous flights, and often flying above cloud which given the restrictions on the ability of most ATA pilots to navigate while flying along was strongly advised against. The crash site does lie very close to the direct track from Holy Island to Kirkbride.

While over the Cheviot Hills close to the Scottish border the aircraft was seen by a witness on the ground who reported that it was losing height and one of the engines appeared not to be working properly. The aircraft then dived into the ground on Brownhart Law at the head of the Coquet Valley. With the exception of the outer wings and the rear part of the fuselage the aircraft was destroyed by fire following the crash. The investigating officer reported that the aircraft had approached from the NNW and struck the ground with its port wingtip first and then cartwheeled spreading wreckage over a relatively short distance. The crash was not actually witnessed, but a farmer at Makendon Farm a short way down the valley heard the crash and after discovering that an aircraft had crashed reported the accident to the Army at Otterburn.

The crash site of Bristol Beaufort Mk.I DX118 on Brownhart Law, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland
The sheet of armour plate at the crash site of DX118.

The investigation suggested that there had possibly been a failure of the starboard engine as the propeller from that engine had not been turning under power at the moment of impact and the rudder trim tab was set to provide full deflection to compensate for yaw to starboard. A strip of the engine failed to discover any obvious pre-crash failure which had led to the loss of power from the starboard engine and probable subsequent loss of control. The ATA Accident Committee concluded that the failure of the starboard engine while over an area where a forced landing was not possible was the reason for the crash and laid no blame upon 1st Officer Milton.

The crash site of Bristol Beaufort Mk.I DX118 on Brownhart Law, Cheviot Hills, Northumberland
The bulk of the wreckage which was found at the crash site of DX118.

William Milton, who was an American citizen, was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in London with his brother present. Later his ashes were returned to his wife in the USA where they were interred at Gloucester Ware Episcopal Church Cemetery in Virginia.