Isle Of Man / Ellan Vannin

World War Two: Mystery still surrounds what caused Manx crashes

Isle of Man Image copyright Aviation Museum
Image caption The bomber crashed in low fog and exploded in a huge fireball - killing all 31 on board

It started as a peaceful mission and ended as the worst aviation disaster in the history of the Isle of Man.

On 23 April 1945, just weeks before the end of World War Two, 31 American military personnel died after their Flying Fortress bomber crashed on a rocky Manx hillside.

Although it was a fully-equipped warplane, the bomber was on a peaceful mission, taking ground crew to Northern Ireland for a few days of leave.

A Manx Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS) spokesman said the servicemen were packed into every available space in the cramped body of the aircraft, the radio cabin, and even in the gun turrets.

All would have been eagerly anticipating the short break from the busy base at Ridgewell in Essex where they repaired bombers.

Manx Aviation Museum Director Ivor Ramsden said the plane crashed at "full speed".

Image copyright Aviation Museaum
Image caption The tail was the only part of the Flying Fortress which was recognisable after the crash

'Exploding fireball'

"It bounced back into the air, debris and men spilling from its torn fuselage, and crashed back on to the rocky slopes where high-octane petrol surged from the huge wing tanks and exploded in a fireball.

The plane's pilot Lt Charles Ackerman was hugely experienced and had completed more than 50 missions - many as lead pilot in his squadron.

It is not clear why he deviated from his planned route to be flying over the Isle of Man.

Just nine months earlier Ackerman's former co-pilot Lt Ronald Dorrington was killed whilst crashing into the same hill.

Five Americans died when their B-24 Liberator bomber crashed - again in low cloud. It had been flying from Northern Ireland to Lancashire.

Image copyright MAPS
Image caption Between them Lt Charles Ackerman (left) and Lt Ronald Dorrington (right) survived 77 flights over enemy-occupied Europe

Mr Ramsden said: "I can't think of any reason why Ackerman would have been flying over the Isle of Man, rather than to the north of it, other than to try to see where his former buddy came to grief.

"The flight plans of both aircraft were routed north of the island".

Each year, members of the MAPS fly the Stars and Stripes at the top of the hill where the scars of the crash are still visible.

Mr Ramsden said it is always a "very moving occasion".

He said: "It is such a beautiful, peaceful spot and it's impossible to imagine that it was a place of devastation and horror 70 years ago.

"Nature has hidden most of the scars but here and there you can find twisted pieces of metal which provide vivid reminders of that terrible accident."

The crash came nine days after 11 US personnel lost their lives in a crash in the south of the island.

The story of the the air tragedies will be told through displays at Castleton's Manx Aviation and Military Museum, which is open at weekends.

Image copyright Aviation museum
Image caption Mike Corlett, in his 80s, has hoisted the American flag on North Barrule every year since 1995

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