North American Mustang Mk.III FX931 of No.61 OTU, RAF, crashed at High Bentham on the 14th February 1945


Pawel Struniewski Sergeant, PAF Pilot Killed


Sergeant Struniewski, a member of the Polish Air Force and on No.54 Course at 61 OTU, was briefed, along with four other pilots, for a day cross country flight from RAF Rednal near Oswestry in Shropshire, the planned route was Rednal – Preston – Derby – Rednal – Hereford – Lichfield – Rednal. The pilots were to fly the route as singletons, leaving Rednal at suitable intervals.

Crash site of North American Mustang Mk.III FX931 at High Bentham, North Yorkshire
The aircraft crashed into farm land not far from the village of High Bentham, in North Yorkshire, though it closer to Lancaster than any other major town. This photograph shows the crash site during on of the visits made to the site with LAIT prior to the site being excavated in 2012.

The another pilot who completed the flight reported that there was complete cloud cover over Preston and that he had to descend through a gap in the cloud over the sea before flying below cloud at 6,000ft to locate Preston. It seems likely that having passed over Preston at 15,000ft Sgt Struniewski continued northwards for around 25 miles. The aircraft was heard by people on the ground in the High Bentham area, west of Ingleton close to the Yorkshire / Lancashire boundary. They were mostly unable to see the aircraft due to low cloud, which was obscuring the high ground to the north and east.

Crash site of North American Mustang Mk.III FX931, High Bentham, North Yorkshire
A second photograph showing the crash site during one of the pre-excavation visits.

The sound was described as a roar, which suggested the aircraft was in a high speed dive. The few witnesses who saw the aircraft reported that it emerged from cloud at a shallow angle which soon steepened after which the Mustang dived into a field near the village breaking up over a large area. Shortly before hitting the ground the starboard wing broke away from the aircraft, it fell very close to the main crash site and came to rest beside the craters caused by the aircraft striking the ground. It struck the ground root first which prevented any real analysis of how it failed and broke away from the aircraft.

Crash site of North American Mustang Mk.III FX931 at High Bentham, North Yorkshire
One of the items which was recovered by LAIT was part of the armour plate from behind the pilot’s seat. It can be seen here prior to being lifted from the ground.

The AIB investigator who was sent to the crash site concluded that the pilot had most likely lost control of the aircraft while descending through the dense cloud which prevailed on that day. He had been able to partly recover the aircraft but in doing so over-stressed the starboard wing which failed. This failure of the wing cause a complete loss of control at low level followed by it crashing.

Excavation of the crash site of North American Mustang Mk.III FX931 at High Bentham, North Yorkshire
The crash site was excavated in 2012 using a JCB which belonged to the landowner. Few large items were discovered during the excavation.

Following the crash Sgt Struniewski’s body was recovered to RAF Cark and then buried at Barrow-in-Furness. He was from eastern Poland in an area which is now part of Belarus. He died ten days before his 28th birthday.