Boeing B-17 42-97862 crash on Cavehill, Belfast

On 1st June 1944, a United States Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress came down on Cavehill, in North Belfast killing all 10 American crew members on board.

On 1st June 1944, United States Army Air Force Boeing B-17 42-97862 came down on Cavehill, Belfast. A total of 10 service personnel died on board the Flying Fortress.

The plane left Newfoundland and crossed the Atlantic via Iceland bound for Northern Ireland. A low, thick cloud hung over the city of Belfast and the crew took a decision to divert to the airfield at Nutts Corner, Co. Antrim. While in a holding pattern, the crew became disorientated and crashed into the slope of Cavehill.

B-17 wreckage on Cavehill, Belfast, Co. Antrim

NARA Photo: The registration number of Boeing B-17 42-97862 lies in the wreckage of the plane on Cavehill, Belfast, Co. Antrim where it crashed on 1st June 1944. Public domain photo.

Crash on Cavehill

The 4 engine Boeing B-17 burst into flames on the hillside causing bombs and ammunition to explode. People in nearby streets ran for cover as emergency rescue crews made their way to the crash site.

That morning I forgot about school and ran up to Cavehill 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.

Eyewitness Gordon Burnison interviewed in The Newsletter – 2nd June 2006.

United States Army troops arrived and sealed the area letting no one in or out including a pair of local Air Raid Precautions Wardens. Burial of the crew members took place at the Lisnabreeny American Cemetery, Belfast. United States Army Air Force authorities declared the plane written off.

B-17 crash on Cavehill Report

NARA Document: A United States Army Air Force War Department Missing Air Crew Report from 10th April 1946 detailing the crew members of B-17 42-97862 that crashed on Cavehill, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Declassified in 1973. Public domain photo.

Remembering the B-17 Crew

Last Name First Name(s) Rank Role Information
Brewer Wilbur D Staff Sergeant Air Gunner
Brooks Lester B Flying Officer Pilot
Dundon Lawrence E Staff Sergeant Radio Operator
Graves Robert L Sergeant Air Gunner
Hibbler Howard A Sergeant Air Gunner
McCrane Lawrence R Corporal Air Gunner
McGill Edward E Staff Sergeant Air Gunner
McKenzie Leighton B Flying Officer Bomber
Murphy Jeremiah C Flying Officer Pilot
Nobilione Joseph V 2nd Lieutenant Navigator

After such a horrific accident with great loss of life, the War Department made a decision to attempt to prevent further incidents. They employed a local postman William Caulfield to paint a large rock with white paint. This would act as a marker on the mountain top, a navigational aid for pilots making their way to Nutts Corner, Co. Antrim. In May 2016, the stone was repainted to commemorate Cavehill’s wartime history.

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 and returned the ring. This event formed the basis for the movie ‘Closing The Ring’ directed by Sir Richard Attenborough.

Unveiled on 1st June 2006, a memorial at the nearby Belfast Zoo commemorates the American crew. The Portland stone plinth bears the names of the crew.