Boeing B-17G 44-83325, USAAF, flew into Beinn Edra on the Isle of Skye on the 3rd March 1945
|Paul M. Overfield||1st Lieutenant||Pilot||Killed|
|Leroy Elmer Cagle||2nd Lieutenant||Co-pilot||Killed|
|Charles K. Jeanblanc||2nd Lieutenant||Navigator||Killed|
|Harold Duane Blue||Corporal||Engineer||Killed|
|Harold A. Fahselt||Corporal||Engineer / Gunner||Killed|
|Arthur W. Jr Kopp||Corporal||Radio Operator||Killed|
|George S Aldrich||Corporal||Gunner||Killed|
|John H. Vaughan||Corporal||Gunner||Killed|
|Carter D. Wilkinson||Corporal||Gunner||Killed|
B-17 44-83325 was a newly built aircraft, having come off the production line at the Douglas aircraft factory in Long Beach, California. It was being ferried across the Atlantic before being assigned to a unit of the USAAF. The crew were also unassigned, other than to the Air Transport Command within the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. Despite this the pilot had a reasonable number of hours flying the B-17 prior to this flight.
The ferry trip across the Atlantic was to be done in stages from Bangor in Maine to Gioia del Colle in Italy with the leg on which the accident occurring being between Meek Field in the South West of Iceland (adjacent to the modern day Keflavik Airport) to RAF Valley on Anglesey in North Wales.
During the early morning of the 3rd March 1945 the crew flying 44-83325 departed Meeks Field and headed towards the north of Scotland from where they were to follow the west coast south, passing Tiree, Islay and Galloway to reach their destination for the leg. Diversionary airfields of Prestwick and Nutts Corner were also planned for.
The weather for the flight was fairly good for the time of year, a low pressure was situated just south of Greenland causing strong southerly winds on departure from Iceland but a high pressure was centred over the British Isles meaning the crew would be flying into much more settled conditions with no weather fronts across the country. However high pressures in early spring can give days of grey overcast sitting at fairly low levels. These conditions were recorded by the USAAF met service at Prestwick throughout the day.
All was going to plan for the sea crossing with the crew making contact with Stornoway as expected. At about 13:45 the aircraft was seen by people living around Staffin on the Isle of Skye flying below or just into the 800ft cloud base. The aircraft was seen to follow the east coast of the islands south for a short time before disappearing from sight after which the sound of an explosion was heard from the direction of the high ground of the Trotternish Ridge and burning objects were seen rolling down the steep escarpment out of the bottom of the clouds.
The aircraft had impacted the precipitous eastern face of Beinn Edra, 611m (2,004ft), one of many summits along the ridge which rises fairly gently from the west but has an eastern face of unstable basalt crags. None of the crew survived the crash.
Following the accident the bodies of the crew were recovered from the mountain and the wreckage of the aircraft was then cleared up by personnel from No.56 Maintenance Unit based in Inverness. Their approach was to work from the top of the cliffs on ropes gradually dislodging the wreckage until all the larger parts had been ‘trundled’ to the foot of the cliffs. This approach was not entirely safe with the recovery team having to contend with falling rocks throughout their time at the site as well as the wreckage. Once member was injured when he was struck by a oil cooler which rolled off the cliff.
Initially all of the crew were buried in the UK but following the end of the conflict all but one were repatriated to the USA at the request of their next of kin. Ultimately four of the crew were buried in a communal grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St Louis, Missouri. The other four were buried at different locations across the US with only the navigator 2nd Lt Jeanblanc remaining at the American Military Cemetery in Cambridge.