80th anniversary of worst wartime Arran plane crash

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By Hugh Boag

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the worst wartime plane crash on Arran.

On August 10 1941, the Consolidated Liberator aircraft of the BOAC Return Ferry Service crashed on the southern slopes of Am Binnein, about 1,300 yards north of Goatfell, killing all 22 passengers and crew on board.


The 18 passengers were British and Commonwealth servicemen from the UK, Canada, the US and one Australian who were flying on one of the first regular transatlantic services operating during the Second World War.

The prime purpose of the service was to return air crews, who had ferried American manufactured aircraft to the UK, back to Canada and the US. In addition to returning aircrews, mail, freight and senior VIPs were also flown.

Indeed, had it not been for a last minute change of flight, the crashed plane would have been carrying newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook who, on that day, switched to a second flight from Ayr on his way to attend the final day of the Atlantic Charter meeting between British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt.

Flight AM261 with Captain White at the controls took off from RAF Healthfield, Ayr, for Gander in Newfoundland, at 20.15 BST. The cloud base was 1,200 feet, visibility four miles and wind WSW 19 knots. On Arran there was heavy rain, with mist at sea level.


The plane climbed to 800 feet and began a wide left hand circuit of the airfield. It then departed on a westerly course, though witnesses felt it was more northerly than usual.

Ten minutes and 25 miles later, it crashed at 20.35 BST high up on the southern slopes of Am Binnein.

Funerals were held on Friday August 15. Three lorries covered in black served as hearses for the coffins, which were draped in national flags, while other lorries carried wreaths and flowers. The cortege was led by the police, naval ratings and the Arran Home Guard and behind a slow march by islanders.

All but one are buried in Old Kilbride Cemetery in Lamlash. Radio Officer Green was disinterred in March 1947 at the request of his widow and reburied at Brookwood Miliary Cemetery, Surrey.

The crash was investigated by the RAF Accident Investigation Branch whose inspector concluded the accident was due to navigational errors, but said it was impossible to deduce the factors for these errors.

Find out more about the BOAC Return Ferry Service and the crash of the Liberator AM261 at Arran Heritage Museum, Rosaburn, Brodick.

 

 

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