Avro Anson N5372 crash in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim

On 18th October 1943, Avro Anson N5372 crashed near Ballycastle, killing 3, after many factors contributed to it striking high ground at Knocklayd Mountain.

Avro Anson N5372 crashed at Drumavoley Road, Glenshesk, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim at 2115hrs on 18th October 1943. The Mark I plane belonging to No. 3 School of General Reconnaissance took off from R.A.F. Squires Gate, Blackpool, Lancashire at around 1940hrs. The crew was on a non-operational navigation B3 exercise that should have seen them return to the Blackpool airfield.

The planned route would take them 15 miles beyond the Mull of Kintyre followed by a wide turn to avoid other planes and a return to Squires Gate. The proposed journey would take place at around 2,400 feet and average a speed on 110 knots. The anticipated highest ground to navigate would be 1860 feet.

On the outward leg, I knew we were close to track and had identified West Freugh on the starboard side at a distance of approx 2 miles. The cloud base was 2500ft reducing and about 5/10 cumulus. As a result of the decreasing cloud here, I was flying intermittently in cloud. Consequently, I was not over worried when I failed to observe the Mull of Kintyre and I instructed the first navigator to turn from his D/R position on H/T.

On setting course for base from this turning point – 150 degrees M, approx height 2400ft, speed 110kts – I observed myself extremely close to another aircraft on similar course and same height, slightly to starboard and behind. The cloud base had become still lower and I was again flying in patch cloud. To avoid a possible collision with the other aircraft (blind), I increased my airspeed to 115kts by a shallow dive to 2200ft and temporarily altered course 10 degrees to port approx 140M. I then resumed my original course and airspeed (150M/110KTS at a height of 2200ft). At this time, I sighted a white flashing marine light and drew this to the attention of the first navigator.

Flying Officer JG Cooper – Pilot

After taking evasive action, the crew was actually 11 miles starboard of their route. Barometric pressure at Knocklayd was 4 millibars less than at Squires Gate. This drop in pressure brought the plane’s true height to 2050 feet. The Anson became caught in a downdraught and struck high ground at Knocklayd Mountain.

Victims of the Accident

Flying Officer JG Cooper attempted a forced landing in Avro Anson N5372 but struck a tree on the descent. Losing control, the plane then crashed into the house of Charles Blaney. Blaney’s wife and 5 children were home at the time as was a visitor from Co. Donegal. This 22-year-old visitor, Josephine McGroarty was the only civilian victim of the accident.

Josephine was standing outside the house with her boyfriend John Greer from nearby Ballycastle. The impact threw John clear of the house but Josephine’s injuries would prove fatal.

Of the 2 crew members killed, one was a high-ranking Polish Officer. Wing Commander Heller’s base was at Jurby, Isle of Man at the time. His grave is in Movilla Cemetery, Newtownards, Co. Down.

The second crew fatality was Warrant Officer Eric George Clarke of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was wireless air gunner on board and made it to a medical treatment facility in Limavady, Co. Londonderry after the accident. There, he began to write a statement but later succumbed to his injuries. The Australian’s grave is in Christ Church Church of Ireland, Drumachose, Limavady, Co. Londonderry.

The pilot, Flying Officer J.G. Cooper escaped with injuries. The impact threw him from the wreckage into the children’s bedroom. By some miracle, no one in the house sustained any injuries. After the accident, Cooper stated:

On the last leg of the exercise, the aircraft was flying at 2,400 feet. It was however eleven miles to the starboard of track, a fact not known to the crew. I decided to descend to 2,000 feet to avoid another aircraft. We approached from the downwind side of the mountain, and the wind was 150 degrees at 35/40 kms per hour. There would have been an extensively strong down draft as we approached the mountainside. After the aircraft struck Knockgavd, SOS procedures were carried out and preparations were made for a ditching.

The Royal Air Force declared Avro Anson N5372 written off and damaged beyond repair.

Crew of Avro Anson N5372

Last Name First Name(s) Rank Role Info
Cooper JG Flying Officer Pilot Royal Air Force. Injured.
Heller Waldyslaw Eugeniusz Wing Commander 1st Navigator Pupil Polish Air Force. Killed.
Dunn JH Flight Lieutenant 2nd Navigator Pupil Royal Air Force. Injured.
Clarke Eric George Warrant Officer Wireless Air Gunner Royal Australian Air Force. Killed.