31 October 2009

Crash Hills Mountain, NB 23 January 1943

Today I set out to locate the crash site of Ventura AE872 that crashed at Hills Mountain, NB on 23 January 1943 claiming its entire crew. P/O B.B. Williams, RCAF (Pilot) and P/O G.A. Norriss, RNZAF (Observer) were eventually laid to rest on 27 January 1943 at St. George Rural Cemetery in St. George, NB. The third member of the crew, P/O P.W. McCarthy, RCAF (WOP/AG), was returned to Ottawa, ON for burial. My wife Sheri and I have visited the grave sites of all three of these airmen.

Taken from the accident report of the crash is the following:
"P/O Williams and a crew of two took off at 0910 hours in Ventura aircraft AE872, authorized to carry out formation flying for one hour and 30 minutes with Sgt. Tovell and crew in Ventura No.658. P/O Williams and Sgt. Tovell were to share the leadership time in the formation, normally splitting the flying time into four portions.

After flying for about one hour in formation and at a time when the aircraft were heading back towards the aerodrome at a height of 2,000 ft. P/O Williams was leading; he gave the visual break-away signal and then broke away in a steep dive turn to port and Sgt. Tovell broke off in a steep climbing turn to starboard. Sgt. Tovell lost sight of Ventura 872 but later saw a fire on the ground. Eye witnesses residing some 9 miles from St. Stephen, N.B. and 37 miles from Pennfield Ridge stated that they saw two Ventura aircraft flying in formation when one broke away to the left and made a large circle, going into a steep bank and crashed into Hills Mountain which is about 300 feet higher then the surrounding country. The aircraft, Ventura 872, burst into flames on impact, exploded and was totally destroyed. All the occupants were killed.

An examination of the wreckage and of the scene of the accident disclosed that the aircraft had flown into the top of the trees in a 45° starboard wing - down, 30° nose-down altitude with considerable speed. The impact was so severe that the aircraft made a hole some four feet deep in the ground, exploded and broke into many pieces."

After traveling for a little while we located the crash site which, even after sixty-six (66) years, was still quite evident from the carter created by the force of the crash. Small pieces of the wreckage could still be found throughout the debris field.

Small fragment of Ventura AE872

After taking some GPS readings, along with some photographs to document the crash site, we stopped back at the St. George Rural Cemetery to once again visit the graves of two of the crew of Ventura AE872, namely P/O B.B. Williams and P/O G.A. Norriss. We left poppies at the foot of each their respective military markers and paused for a moment of reflection.

I'll end this posting with the first verse of a poem P/O Williams' brother "...composed when I visited my brother's grave in 1944 when I had just returned from 4 years overseas with the RAF."

"Comrades lie around me all asleep are they
In dreams of home and loved ones
I know that they will stay
For here beneath this pine strewn ground
Our rest is deep our sleep in sound."

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