Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress #42-97862 crash at Cave Hill, Belfast

On 1st June 1944, Boeing B-17 #42-97862 en-route from Gander, Newfoundland crashed on the slopes of Cave Hill, Belfast killing 10 of the crew members onboard.

On 1st June 1944, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress #42-97862 crashed en route from Gander Bay, Newfoundland. The crew on board was in transfer from 401st Bomb Group to 306th Bomb Group at Nutts Corner Airfield, Co. Antrim. The B-17, however, crashed in heavy fog while waiting for clearance to land on the slopes of Cave Hill, Belfast.

The 4-engine bomber burst into flames on the hillside causing ammunition to explode. As rescuers rushed to the scene, residents of nearby streets ran for cover. Across north Belfast, scores of children were inquisitive to find out more.

That morning I forgot about school and ran up to Cave Hill to see what happened. The plane was in among the trees. The ammunition was exploding in the heat. The Fire Brigade arrived and brought their bodies out on stretchers covered in blankets.

At the crash site, United States Army soldiers sealed the area. Not even local Air Raid Precautions Wardens could gain access. The scene on Cave Hill was one of devastation.

All ten members of the United States Army Air Force crew died as a result of the incident. They were pilot Lester Bryan Brooks, co-pilot Jeremiah C. Murphy, navigator Joseph V. Nobilione, bombardier Leighton B. McKenzie, radio operator Lawrence E. Dundon, left waist gunner Howard A. Hibbler, rear waist gunner Edward Ewing McGill, top turret gunner Wilbur D. Brewer, ball turret gunner Robert L. Graves Jr., and tail gunner Lawrence R. McGrane.

In the aftermath of the incident, the War Department made a decision with the aim of preventing similar future crashes. They employed William Caulfield, a local postman, to paint a large rock on the hillside with white paint. This would act as a marker on the hill, a navigational aid for pilots making their way toward the Nutts Corner Airfield. In May 2016, the stone was repainted to commemorate Cave Hill’s wartime history.

All crew members were first buried at the Lisnabreeny American Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Belfast in 1944.

In 1991, Belfast man Alfred Montgomery found Lawrence Dundon’s wedding ring at the crash site. After years of research, he tracked down the airman’s widow Ruth Gillespie in Kentucky, U.S.A. and returned the treasured memento. This event formed the basis for the movie ‘Closing The Ring’ directed by Sir Richard Attenborough.

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