Last Wednesday, the 26th of May, the Museum of Islay Life invited members of the public, both on Islay and beyond, to attend a simple service to inaugurate the memorial that has been built to the men of Coastal Command who lost their lives in the Sunderland Flying Boat DV979 that crashed at Blackrock on January 24th 1943. The short service was held by the Rev Ken Skipper, who saw service in the RAF as a chaplain. There was a flypast at 11.00 by an RAF Tornado. Earlier this year a memorial was erected close to the spot where the Sunderland flying boat crashed and exploded in Wordwar II.
View from the Sunderland Memorial looking over Black Rock towards Bowmore
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. Continue reading.....
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.
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 aircraftâ€™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. â€œThe bravery displayed by Sergeants Simpson, Howarth, Phillips, Heath and Major be brought to the notice of the proper authorities. 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. originally published here