Short Sunderland Mk.III DV979 / F of No.246 Sqn, RAF, crashed near Black Rock on the Isle of Islay on the 24th January 1943


Eric John Lever Captain SAAF Pilot Survived
Wallace Arthur Johnston Pilot Officer RCAF 2nd Pilot Killed
Walter Eric Charles Heath Sergeant Navigator / Bomb Aimer Killed
George Charles Major Sergeant Navigator / Bomb Aimer Killed
George Hogg Sergeant Wireless Operator Mechanic / Air Gunner Survived
Roy John Jabour Sergeant RAAF Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Killed
Ernest Geoff Palmer Sergeant RAAF Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Killed
Henry John Tasker Sergeant Wireless Operator / Air Gunner Killed
George Cyril Phillips Sergeant Air Gunner Killed
John Ivor Williams Sergeant Flight Mechanic (Engines) / Air Gunner Survived
William Simpson Sergeant Flight Mechanic (Airframe) / Air Gunner Killed
Douglas Howarth Sergeant Flight Engineer Killed


The crew of the aircraft had been on an operational patrol, carrying out a parallel track search, from Bowmore of the sea area RU58, having taken off at 07:24. The sea state at Bowmore was not ideal that day and it was expected that after dark it would be too rough to land aircraft. The original ETA back at Bowmore for DV979 had been 18:10 which being just before last light and it was decided by Flying Control not to divert the crew to Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. At 17:00 the situation was reviewed and the flare path was laid in the calmest area of water available should the aircraft arrive a little late.

Memorial plaque at Black Rock, Islay
During 2010 a memorial to those who died in the crash and subsequent explosion was erected on the headland where the crash occurred.

Shortly after the crew made contact with Bowmore stating that they would be 50 minutes late, at this point they were told that if they had sufficient fuel they were to divert to Lough Erne. However at the time the aircraft was contacted they only had some 45 minutes fuel remaining and were unable to divert. At 19:26, over a hour late and in near complete darkness, DV979 arrived back overhead at Bowmore. The flare path was ignited and Capt Lever was told that he could not overshoot his landing as the landing area finished close to where other aircraft were moored. He then warned his crew to expect a rough landing and gathered them in the upper deck around the cockpit.

Crash site of Sunderland DV979 at Black Rock, Islay
Looking from the memorial to the building which the aircraft struck immediately before it crashed.

After gathering the crew Capt Lever and P/O Johnston began their approach overland from the north, intending to cross the northern shore of Loch Indaal at 200 feet and touch down as soon as possible. While approaching the coast the port float struck a building near the shore and the aircraft crashed a short distance beyond it. A fire quickly took hold and the crew began to evacuate the aircraft, at least nine had survived the crash. Captain Lever was spotted by Sgt Hogg wandering on the shore ahead of the aircraft and he called to Sgt Williams that they should go and get him. As the two Sergeants reached their Captain, about 30 yards away, the aircraft’s Depth Charges detonated destroying the aircraft and killing outright the men who were still around the wreck to help pull trapped colleagues from the aircraft.

The two surviving Sergeants had received help from Heath, Howarth, Major, Phillips and Simpson, the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry made direct reference to this. “The bravery displayed by Sergeants Simpson, Howarth, Phillips, Heath and Major be brought to the notice of the proper authorities”.

Crash site of Sunderland DV979 at Black Rock, Islay
This view is looking from the memorial across Loch Indaal towards Bowmore.
Wreckage at the crash site of Sunderland DV979 at Black Rock, Islay
On the beach below the memorial are a few small pieces of torn and corroded aluminium, this piece was found in 2007 before the memorial was erected.


The three Commonwealth airmen who were killed are buried at Bowmore Parish Churchyard, the British members of crew are buried at various locations across the UK.

Pilot Officer Johnston's Grave at Bowmore
2nd Pilot, Pilot Officer Johnston.
Sergeant Roy John Jabour's Grave at Bowmore, Islay
WO / AG, Sergeant Jabour
Sergeant Ernest Geoff Palmer's Grave at Bowmore, Islay
WO / AG, Sergeant Palmer