Beinn Alder Crash 10 th Dec 1942
There is an amazing story of a Vickers Wellington aircraft 10/12/1942 that crashed south eastern flank of Geal Charn One crew member survived in mid-winter and went for help – what a story that few have heard. Wreckage can be found on Geal-Chàrn, and then at various points downward on the slopes of Leacann na Brathan, in the vicinity of Ben Alder
The crew, from B Flight of No.20 OTU, were on a day navigation training flight from RAF Lossiemouth on 10 /12/1942. The planned route was from base to a point some 30 miles east of Peterhead – Crieff – Friockheim, near Arbroath – Maud, near Peterhead – base. At some point the aircraft deviated from this route and at about 15:00 while heading in an easterly to north easterly direction (some 40 miles off course) flew into Leacann na Brathan on the south eastern flank of Geal-charn which at the time was snow covered and enveloped in blizzard conditions.
The only survivor of the crash, Sgt Underwood, after checking for signs of life from his crew made his way off the mountain and arrived at Corrour Lodge in a very poor state. He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William. I cannot imagine trying to get off the mountain high up in winter from this area and all your crew are killed. How Sgt Underwood managed this is a tale of survival and huge mental courage this is one of the wildest areas and remote hill country in the UK, Sadly little was known of this tale as in 1942 it was the dark days of the war and I would imagine crashes etc were fairly restricted information. One can only think what was in his head as he headed down to Corrour and what he said to the keeper and his family who live in this remote place?
After the aircraft had failed to return from its exercise a search was organised but nothing was found before the report of the rear gunner reaching Corrour and help was received. The rest of the crew died in the crash.
- F/O James William Heck (25), Pilot, RAAF.
- Sgt Maurice Hutt (21), Obs. / Bomb Aimer, RAFVR.
- Sgt William Ernest Riley (22), Navigator, RAF.
- Sgt Joseph Towers (25), Navigator, RAFVR.
- Sgt James Hemmings, W/Op / Air Gnr., RAFVR.
Following the recovery of the bodies of those who had been killed the task of clearing the site was given to No.56 Maintenance Unit at Inverness. They inspected the wreck and decided to abandon it until the spring of 1943 before any work could begin. The recovery operation eventually began in July 1943 with a camp being established some distance from the site, assistance was rendered by army personnel of the 52nd Division, Scottish Command. They provided 25 pack mules and a 3 ton lorry. With these most of the wreckage was removed from the site, but today a reasonable amount still remains. Some tale! I am sure there was an aircraft Tyre down near the road coming out of the Beinn Alder Track near the Dam at Loch Eiricht and the railway line, it would make sense that is where some wreckage was taken by the mules?
The wreckage is in three debris fields, with the lowest lying (containing a few twisted pieces of fuselage) right on the main path going over the Bealach Dubh between Ben Alder and Geal-chàrn at an altitude of about 730m. It was here that much of the aircraft was brought down by mules and I am sure that is why the wreckage is there on the path? I am sure this is where the wheel came from as the road passes the point where I used to see the aircraft wheel. Please be aware this is a tricky wild remote area if you plan to visit where the snow holds on for a long time.
OS 10-figure grid refs (GPS):
NN 48049 73196
NN 48072 73585
NN 48223 73680 Thanks to Danny Daniels and others for the information.
What a film this story would make and few have heard or have knowledge of this story, it was hidden in the tragedy of the war. I bet there is still a few who would know the tale, the keepers from Corrour would have been involved as would the Beinn Alder Estate any information would be gratefully accepted. I had planned to go up on the 70 th Anniversary but was ill for two years. I will make a point of going up on this 75 th Anniversary in 2017 god willing!
Do you have any contacts on the Estate who may be have a tale of this epic?
David “Heavy” Whalley email@example.com Dec 2017
Nearly 10 years later – The Corrour tragedy on 29 -31 December 1951. Five members of the Glencoe Mountaineering Club from Glasgow decided to spend New Year at Ben Alder bothy. All were fairly well-known mountaineers at that time. I spoke to Hamish MacIness many years ago about this tragedy and he knew some of them as mountaineering was a small sport then. They had planned to get the train to from Glasgow to Corrour Station near Loch Ossian a lonely but beautiful place to the North of Rannoch Moor. They arrived after the afternoon train and got a lift from a lorry to Corrour Lodge at the end of the loch. After a meal cooked in the woods they set off for Ben Alder Cottage some 11 kilometres away over a high pass at 2030 hours. They were carrying large packs with 3-4 days food as the bothy at Ben Alder Cottage is very basic.
After about 4 kilometres the party became tired and 3 decided to bivouac in the lee of a river at about 500 metres. The other 2 pushed on and tried to cross the beleach W.S.W of Ben Alder but due to deep snow they also bivouacked.
They woke at 0600 and with the wind now and a gale blowing behind them tried again to reach the beleach; they turned back and met the others at 0915 near a small lochan. The weather was so bad that they found it difficult to pack their kit. They all then tried to head back to Loch Ossian only a short distance away. The wind was in their faces and weather were extremely wild, winds over 80 -100 mph recorded across Scotland; one by one they succumbed to exposure and died. The only Survivor was the wife of one of the fatalities who reached Corrour Lodge where the local keeper and the SMC were staying and mounted a rescue party. Nothing could be done; it was a terrible tragedy and rocked mountaineering in Scotland for many years. They must have had such a hard time dealing with such a tragedy. There is an account of this in the book the Black Cloud (L.D.S. Thomson) and the SMC journal Vol 25 No 143. It must be noted that some of the accounts are taken from the survivor who had lost her husband and will still in a state of shock even a few weeks after the incident. Weather forecast in 1951 was very vague and exposure was unheard of in those days. In the same SMC Journal Doctor Donald Duff a pioneer of Scottish Mountain Rescue wrote an article on Exposure Tragedies, much is still relevant today. In 2013 in the same area a solo walker was found after a big search, this is wild country and in winter a hard place to be.
Extract from my diary on a winter walk in 1977
“This was one of my hardest days ever the 4 Munros plus Beinn Na Lap From Ossian to Culra in early December and a real epic trying to get of the plateau in full on white out. Three times we back to the summit of Geal Charn as we were met a huge Cornices. It was now dark 1700 and we had still one Munro to climb to get to the bothy at Culra st the end of a 15 hour day. In the end we had to go over the in the whiteness was of fear. We made it we were on route again on the way up the next Munro Carn Dearg I told Terry and Jim about the crash nearby where only one survived and the Corrour Tragedy”.
For many years I have explored this area and even winter climbed here we had the privileged of using the Estate tracks then when Mr Oswald was the keeper at Beinn Alder. Often I have done these great hills and the 6 Munros in winter was always an objective. How many times did we struggle on these long days with limited light then be hit by huge drifts on the way off and swollen rivers in the dark with my trusted dog showing the way. I will wait till late winter God willing to go in and visit these great hills again, these are real mountains and never take them lightly.