Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress #41-24451 crash at Slieveanorra, Co. Antrim

On 3rd October 1942, Boeing B-17 #41-24451 en-route from Gander, Newfoundland crashed on Slieveanorra Mountain, Co. Antrim killing 8 of the crew onboard.

At 1110hrs on 3rd October 1942, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress #41-2445 crashed en route from Gander Bay, Newfoundland. It was one of seven planes to take off on the ferry flight on 2nd October 1942. Some reports suggest the planes were bound for Prestwick, Scotland. Others state the destination as R.A.F. Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, England. The B-17, however, crashed in poor weather into boggy ground just below the summit of Slieveanorra Mountain, Co. Antrim.

Eight members of the “rookie” crew from 401st Bomb Squadron, 91st Bomb Group, United States Army Air Force died as a result of the incident. They were pilot John A. McLean, co-pilot Dale Lasselle, navigator Robert N. “Bob” Allen, bombardier Leonard L. Koebel, doctor George C. Wassell, and passengers John N. Gibson, Justin Clark Hamblin, and Robert J. “Bob” Vaughn. Two of those on the B-17, radio operator Norman E. Wickes and Corporal Leon R. Harrison, survived the crash.

On 5th October 1942, authorities conducted an inquiry and issued a report that remained classified for many years. The contents of this report were based on eye-witness accounts from Wickes and Harrison as well as an examination of the crash site.

The rear left-hand side of the B-17 struck the northwest side of the mountain around 30 feet beneath the summit. The plane travelled on for approximately 100 feet across a gully before striking the hillside and bursting into flames. The right-hand wing and all four engines tore off from the fuselage during the crash.

Of the ten crew and passengers onboard, the impact of the crash threw five clear of the wreckage. The remaining five remained trapped in the burning fuselage. One from each group survived the ordeal. Of those thrown clear, radio operator Wickes attempted to rescue Gibson who was trapped from the waist down. As rescue operations got underway, William Murdock of Ballymoney, Co. Antrim drove Wickes and Harrison to a nearby hospital.

McLean, Lasselle, Allen, Koebel, Wassell, Gibson, Hamblin, and Vaughn were first buried in Belfast City Cemetery. Their bodies were later transferred to the new Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Belfast in 1943.

Authorities declared the Flying Fortress written off, damaged beyond repair. Bad weather over the mountain with a crew off-course was likely the cause of the American plane’s fate.

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