Sunderland W3995 crash at Gay Island, Co. Fermanagh

10th January 2019

Short Sunderland W3995 of RAF 228 Squadron ran aground on Gay Island Shoal on Lough Erne Co. Fermanagh while taxiing out of RAF Castle Archdale in 1943.

At around 0620hrs on 10th January 1943, Short Sunderland W3995 ran aground at Gay Island on Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh. Reports suggest the pilot manoeuvred the plane too far downwind into a prohibited area. The plane ran aground on what locals call the Gay Island Shoal. The Royal Air Force aptly named it "Troublesome Rocks".

The captain of the plane instructed the dingy driver to lead him downwind although the driver failed to do so. The pilot carried on without checking cross bearings to ensure he remained in a safe area.

RAF 228 Squadron spent a short time at RAF Castle Archdale, Co. Fermanagh between December 1942 and May 1943. This came between stints at RAF Oban, Scotland and RAF Pembroke Dock, Wales. During their time at the Co. Fermanagh base, Short Sunderland W3995 was the squadron’s only loss.

With the hose up and tail down after running aground on the rocks, the Sunderland’s fuselage tore open. With the plane damaged, the RAF took a decision to salvage the wreck. They removed fuel, munitions, engines, and anything they could save. They then removed the hull of the flying boat from the rocks.

Details of the salvage came from Edward Bowell, a member of RAF 228 Squadron’s ground crew. The salvage crew travelled out to the wreck on pinnaces and barges. Bad weather on Lough Erne made for a rough trip. The operation required several journeys to and fro to carry machinery and equipment back on the small boats. The torrential weather in the Atlantic ensured it was too dangerous to dismantle the plane on the exposed rocks.

Bowell suggests the remaining parts of Sunderland W3995 sank into Lough Erne after 4 or 5 days. Parts of the flying boat’s wreckage remain in the waters and in recent years, divers have explored the site.

Newsletter Signup

If you'd like to hear more from WartimeNI, you can sign up for regular free updates to your inbox. Just enter your email address below.