LAIT logo WB-29 "Superfortress" 44-61600 - Lupton Fell

25th October 1955

Updated 16.12.2004

Type Unit Base Duty Crew Passengers

WB-29

53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron BAD2 Burtonwood Routine Weather Reconnaissance Flight 11 -

The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron had moved their base from Burmuda to Burtonwood in November 1953, bringing with them their specially prepared, weather observation B-29s in which they carried out daily, long duration, recording flights. The Squadron made daily "Delta" flights covering some 3,686 miles and taking on average 15 hours. During these flights they recorded wind speed and direction, pressure, humidity, temperature, cloud conditions, visibility etc. and the data collected, was coded and sent back to the 53rds weather monitor at Burtonwood, relayed via Croughton radio station in Oxfordshire.

10 of the crew immediatly after the crash - Major Hilkeman is back centre.

 

Name Position Status
Major Benjamin S. Hilkeman Flight Comander U.
Captain James R. Bergevin Pilot U.
Major Leo V. Sayre   U.
1st Lt Joseph F. Daly  

S.I.

T/Sgt. Raymond. Smith  

U.

A/1C Weldon D, Wegner   U.
A/2C Virgil A. Herck   U.
A/1C Richard H. Serogna   U.
S/Sgt. Harry S. Reynolds   U.
T/Sgt. Juan De La Cruz Bou  

U.

S/Sgt.William C. Aken  

U.

Additionally the Squadron carried out regular "Falcon" flights. some taking their aircraft North to the edge of the Polar regions and it was on one of these flights in 1955 that a serious incident developed. "Falcon Coca #345" was a scheduled weather reconnaissance mission posted for the 24.10.1955 and an experienced crew commanded by Major Benjamin Hilkeman attended the regular briefing at 1100 hours and began their pre-flight inspection of WB-29 44-61600 at 1500 hours. During this check they found a fuel booster pump to be inoperative and a faulty connection on the aircraft's LORAN navigation receiver. The flight was postponed whilst the faults were corrected and the following morning the crew repeated the procedure and following a successful pre-flight inspection, they took-off at 0713 hours. The flight was to take them out over the North Atlantic via Northern Ireland and with enough fuel for 19 hours flight on board the crew settled into their routine. The aircraft reached the furthest point of its flight (56 degrees North, 41 degrees West - 281 miles South of the tip of Greenland), without incident and Gander Control (Newfoundland) gave clearance for the return leg of the flight. However by this time it became clear that due to strong headwinds, they were in fact one hour fifteen minutes behind their flight plan. As the flight continued, the crew also began to experience problems with their radio equipment making receiving messages difficult, though they continued to transmit their hourly position reports and weather observations.

As the aircraft continued, the repaired fuel booster pump failed and all engines were placed on direct tank to engine fuel supply, after which all engines continued to operate satisfactorily, except numbers one and four, the two outer engines, where intermittent fuel flow and pressure fluctuations were indicated. At a point 56 degrees North, 41 degrees West - 196 m from West Coast of Ireland, the aircraft commander decided that a landing at Prestwick in Scotland would be prudent to refuel and check the problem, before returning to base. At the end of their weather track, they set course for Prestwick and the flight engineer reported two hours fuel remaining, not including the tank with the faulty pump. However on arriving over the Prestwick area, radio problems continued and the crew had great difficulty in locating the required radio beacons and could not establish contact with the tower. In view of the problems, the Hilkeman requested clearance from Scottish control for a change of flight plan, to continue back to their Burtonwood base.

With a calculated one hour and thirty minutes fuel remaining, the WB29 should have had no trouble making it home, but it was now that the crew began to experience further engine problems. As they made contact with Preston control, Number one engine began to show signs of fuel starvation and was feathered and shut down. Although Preston was notified, no emergency was declared. At this time some icing of the aircraft was noted and as the aircraft descended to 4000 feet to counteract this, numbers two and four engines began to give indications of fuel starvation. Shortly before midnight, at an altitude of 3200 feet and an indicated air speed of only 130 Mph the order was given to abandon the aircraft.

Only the massive tail of the B-29 remained recognisable

The same spot today gives no clue to the incident.

Though the pilot would have set the stricken aircraft to fly out towards the sea, with two engines failing on one side and only one operational on the other it immediately began to turn and came down in a slow spiral descent. Occupants of a local farm near Kirby Lonsdale heard the plane flying very low, followed shortly after by a terrific crash and the night sky lit up with an orange glow. The farmer - Mr George Richardson, rang the police and then rushed to the blazing wreck, meeting the first of the crew with his parachute on the way. At the site he found five other airmen who informed him that everyone had bailed out, though they were worried for the pilot who would have been the last to leave the aircraft. Before long the local ambulance and fire brigades arrived at the scene, though by this time, the fire had largely burnt itself out as the little remaining fuel had been consumed. Over the next couple of hours all the 11 crewmen were accounted for, all having made safe landings, apart from a few bruises and one man being slightly injured on his hand, breaking a finger when dragged by his parachute. They were taken to Westmoreland County Hospital at Kendal by ambulance to be checked over.

The main section disintegrated on a low rise.

No trace remains today, even below the surface!

The following day personnel from Burtonwood arrived and secured the crash site, collecting the personal belongings of the crew and other loose equipment scattered over the site and over the next few weeks supervising the massive clean-up operation to remove all the wreckage. Nothing remains today to mark the site, the wall was rebuilt and the scorched grass re-seeded, though a recent thorough systematic sweep by LAIT using several metal detectorists, recently managed to uncover a few relics of the dramatic events nearly 50 years before. These included a fire detector switch, small arms ammunition from the survival pack and engine bearing shell and a fragment of the pressurised perspex observation dome.

The aircraft first clipped the trees in the background

The fragments uncovered.


Acknowledgements: 

Lancaster Guardian, Westmoreland Gazette, Aldon Ferguson, USAAF Report of Aircraft Accident, Mark Gaskell.

 

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This page Copyright Nick Wotherspoon 2004