Sunday, April 4, 2021

"Over Exposed"

It's years since I'd cross the Pennine hills on a motorbike, back and forth to university in Sheffield, but I figured I'd try to find one of the few relatively distinct aircraft crash-sites, just a mile or two beyond the road. Ferrying between RAF Scampton in the East of England and the USAF base at Burtonwood near the West coast nearly seventy-five years ago, the crew needed sufficient altitude to cross the peaks forming the 'spine' of  the country. I've flown hundreds of approaches to Manchester's airport nearby, which even now involves a series of stepped descents under radar control.

Back in 1948 however, aircraft like this B-29 would be flown by old-school navigation (and there's a memorial from a course of navigators at nearby RAF Finningley, which is where I first took to the skies). This would involve dead reckoning and timing, with the crew 'letting down' after a passage of time considered sufficient for a safe transit. On the day it proved not to be, although as ever it appears from the location that an extra hundred foot or so might have made the difference. In the event however all thirteen onboard the aircraft ~ named OVER EXPOSED after the graphic 'nose art' of the time ~ died following the impact and fire.

The tail-section was all that remained intact, but has long since been removed along with much else. What is surprising however (and a tribute to human nature) is how much remains: amongst the recognisable parts the engines, undercarriage and what must have been rubber-lined centre tanks, which still bear evidence of the floor and seat-rails fixed to their upper side. Many years after the crash a fell-walker found the captain's wedding ring (though there were two such crew-members onboard), and this would eventually be returned to his daughter in the US.

The site is sign-posted at least initially from the route of the cross-country Pennine Way, although this appears to lapse at a crucial juncture when you need to strike west for the nearby trig point. Beside this the mobile phone coverage is patchy, so that there's an element of personal dead reckoning involved that in some ways sets the scene.