Remembrance Week – A forgotten story of the Wellington crash on Geal Charn near Ben Alder.

To me this is an incredible story not well known but worthy of being acknowledged as an incredible survival story of one of the crew.

This crash site is in extremely remote country access can be wild in winter. The route to this site is up an Estate road from Dalwhinnie just of the A9 or from Corrour Station. Many nowadays Mountain bike up here. The bothy At Culra is closed due to Asbestos 2019 and during COVID . To visit in a day is a long expedition and care should be taken these are tricky mountains.

One crew member survived in mid-winter and went for help. It is 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 crash : 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. This journey after the trauma he had been involved in is an incredible feat of strength in full on winter. Even to modem mountaineers this is a wild area and there was a tragedy here a few years later. 

He was taken in and the next day transferred to hospital in Fort William. I cannot imagine trying to get off the mountain alone 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.

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 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. 

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.

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 this is where the snow holds on for a long time.

Grid Ref: 

NN 48049 73196
NN 48072 73585
NN 48223 73680

The crew :

This is dedicated to the crew and the amazing courage and determination of Sgt Underwood. If anyone can give me more information on this incident please do .

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Avalanche info, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, People, PTSD, Views Mountaineering, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Remembrance Week – A forgotten story of the Wellington crash on Geal Charn near Ben Alder.

  1. melohara@eircom.net says:

    https://mountainviews.ie/summit/270/

    Photo taken last Sunday, 13th, of memorial to 4 young RAF men who lost their lives on Black Hill, Wicklow, 1941

    Liked by 1 person

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