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B-24H 42-7467 -  Aspull, Wigan

27th August 1943

Last updated 25.03.2008

Type

Serial

Unit Base Duty Crew Passengers
B-24H   42-7467   - BAD1, Burtonwood Test Flight   3

-

On Friday 27th August 1943 at 19.00 hrs B-24H Liberator number 42-7467 took off from Burtonwood Air Depot near Warrington on a routine flight test. The crew for this flight were 1st Lt. Richard L Hester - Pilot, 2nd Lt. William H Campbell - Co-Pilot, and 2nd Lt Bernard H Froelich - OG.

The aircraft circled the airfield twice and climbed to 8000 ft, then headed in a Northerly direction. With instruments reading 2300 rpm and 35'' manifold pressure, the Co-pilot noticed that No.3 propeller was running about 25 rpm faster than the others and trying to adjust the speed he found there was no response from the propeller control. Lt Hester then tried to move the propeller control both ways with no result, he then tried all four propeller controls both ways again with no result. After about two minutes the propellers started to increase rpm rapidly and he pulled off the superchargers and throttles, the rpm had by that time increased to a point where the No.1 prop indicator was off the dial and No.3 propeller was the slowest at about 3400 rpm.

The aircraft immediately began to lose altitude and became violently unstable, rolling into a 90-degree bank attitude from one side to the other, Lt Hester pulled back the throttles and hit the prop circuit breakers and then pushed all the feathering switches, but nothing happened. When the switches were pushed in they would not stay in but came right out and even when they were held in they had no effect on the propellers, he then put the mixture controls in rich and tried using the throttles but had no effect on the rpm.

At about 4000 ft, Lt Hester called for parachutes and headed the aircraft towards the sea, having a large amount of aviation fuel onboard he did not want the aircraft to fall on a populated area. At about 1000ft the pilot regained enough control to attempt a crash landing, Lt Campbell came to assist in preparing for a crash and cutting the switches the aircraft settled rapidly to the ground.

The aircraft came down in a North Easterly direction at an airspeed of about 115 mph in the field opposite Bradshaw Hall on Hall Lane, after bouncing first in the lower field and rising up again to partly clear the hedge before bouncing a further two times with the left wing down by about five degrees at the time of impact, breaking apart as it went, before stopping 10 to 15 ft from the road. One of the propellers was left sticking up in the field were the aircraft first impacted, an engine was thrown into Hall Lane and the front turret was thrown across the Lane into the field opposite. Lt Hester went through his window and Lt Campbell through his and Lt Froelich was found lying unconscious some 20 ft from the aircraft. Aviation fuel was seen to be pouring from the port wing and a small fire which broke out soon totally engulfed the the aircraft. The aircraft had crashed at about 19.20 hrs, having only being airborne for some 20 minutes.

Although a poor photo, the complete destruction of 42-7467 is clear.

Constable Albert Walker was at Aspull police station when he received a telephone call at 17.23 hrs from a John Holdcroft of Bolton Road, stating that a large aircraft was flying low and which appeared to be in difficulties in the vicinity of Hall Lane, Aspull. He subsequently contacted the NFS, Borough Ambulance, Superintendents office and the local Doctor. He then made his way to Hall Lane were he saw the aircraft in the field opposite Bradshaw Hall, with the three crewmen at the rear of the aircraft. He then had the crew members moved to a safer distance. Thomas Darlington was first on the scene followed by his son Thomas, as both had been working in adjacent fields and they carried Lt Froliech away from the burning aircraft.

The National Fire Service from Hindley arrived around 19.35 hrs with eight men and one engine and fire escape, these were supplemented by Westhoughton NFS, five men and a tender and Wigan NFS seven men, a foam tender and a large pump. Water was obtained from a large pond at Bradshaw Hall and by this means and the use of foam the fire was under control by 20.45 hrs, there was no damage to adjoining property. A police guard was placed over the wreckage until relieved by the USAAF at 22.00 hrs, the Police continued supervision to prevent damage to crops etc.

The Doctor arrived from Aspull and attended to the injured men, Lt Hester was suffering from serious facial and leg lacerations, Lt Campbell was suffering from bruises to the arm and Lt Froelich was unconscious and very seriously wounded. Lt's Hester and Froelich were taken by ambulance to Wigan Infirmary at 19.55 hrs, but Lt Froelich sadly died in the ambulance en route to the infirmary and his body was later returned to the mortuary at Aspull to await collection by the USAAF at 11.00 hrs on 28th August 1943, Lt Hester was detained in the Infirmary.

Prior to the take off all the aircraft functions were checked and found to be okay, including the propellers which had checked out all right. The subsequent investigation came to the conclusion that the damage to the aircraft caused by the crash and subsequent fire was so great as to make an intelligent decision as to the actual cause impossible. A check of the propeller hubs showed No 1 was against the stop, the other three were 3 degrees from the stop, however the force of impact could have resulted in a movement of parts and the governors gave no information of value. It was assumed that it was a complete failure of the propeller controls which had caused the accident. It was also noted that eye witness stated that "funny" noises were heard to be coming from the engines immediatly prior to the crash.

A few days later a recovery team arrived and stayed at Pennington Hall Farm for about two weeks whilst they cleared the site of wreckage, the main parts of the wreckage being hoisted over the hedge onto vehicles on Hall Lane.

A subsequent search of the site by a small group of LAIT members in December 2000 managed to pinpoint the area where 42-7467 burned, but revealed there are virtually no remains at the site apart from a few buried small molten lumps of aluminium and a few rusted steel components to remind us of this fateful day back in 1943.

Looking towards the crash site from the opposite direction to the view above (The hole in the hedge is the result of a more recent vehicular incident!)

Lt Froelich is buried in Long Island National Cemetery, New York, USA. but was originally interred in Brookwood Cemetery, London. Lt Hester returned to flying duties and was killed in a flying accident after hitting wires on take off on 3rd June 1945 at Maastricht flying a L-5. He is buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Francisco, USA, plot B-205, but was originally interred in Margraten in the Netherlands until January 10th 1949. Lt Campbell's whereabouts are unknown at this stage.

Position Rank Name Service No Age Status
Pilot 1st Lt. Richard L Hester 0-427334   Injured
Co-pilot 2nd Lt. William H Campbell 0-659244   Injured
OG 2nd Lt. Bernard H Froelich 0-856589   Died of Injuries

B-24 Liberator 42-7467 was built by Ford Motor Company at their Willow Run factory, Ypsilanti, Michigan at a cost of $305,711 and arrived in the UK on the 15th August 1943 with its sister aircraft 42-7468 which crashed 3 days later at "Battery Cob" Bold, Nr St Helens. Willow Run built 8,685 Liberators and at one point was building 80% of all Liberators built in 1945, when one aircraft was being assembled every 59.34 minutes.


Acknowledgements: Mark Gaskell, Hugh Heyes, Mike Stowe of Crash Reports, John Johnson, Norman Thomas, Aspull Local History Society, Sid Hewitt, William Villani.

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This page Copyright Mark Gaskell & Nick Wotherspoon 2001